Many of the press are reporting that the immediate departure of Steven Sinofsky, head of the Windows division, is a bad thing. Wall Street isn’t happy, they report. And yet, I can’t help thinking that this is a really good thing for Microsoft.
To be honest, the Surface has had modest sales. It’s not been the success many people were hoping for. The fairly pleasing early sales of Windows 8 might well be down to a huge discount (as low as $19.99, depending on when you buy it, or bought your PC) for downloadable upgrades. Many corporates, however, will be content to wait for Windows 9 – and many of those are still upgrading from XP, of course.
But this is a sea change – a complete change of focus to make Windows more relevant in the new touch tablet era. So why is the departure of the man who made it happen such a good thing?
If Windows 8 failed, the argument ran, the targets on the backs of both Steve Baller and Steven Sinofsky would be obvious to Wall Street. With Sinofsky gone, Ballmer now has the freedom to restructure. More importantly, he has someone to blame. Windows was one of Microsoft’s biggest cash cows – any blip in it can easily be attributed to its previous manager’s missteps, and corrected.
Of course, that’s a high risk strategy for Ballmer, but there are plenty of corporates who will sit on their hands and just pay the Select Agreement fees, thus fending off the end of the franchise for another dozen years yet. Windows doesn’t need to be relevant, except in the corporate world, if Microsoft don’t feel they want it to be. Other than the perpetually money-losing Xbox division, Microsoft’s not in consumer-land to a great extent (Zune? Bob? Encarta?) so it’s not such great shakes if Windows doesn’t enter the consumer market that much.
But the main issue, of course, is Ballmer’s beloved “developers, developers, developers“. With the confusion over .Net, the way that Windows Store is based around Windows RT, and that Windows 8 pretty much deprecates .Net, throwing away ten years of hard work building up the ecosystem around the very successful .Net / Visual Studio platform, many developers have been feeling that Microsoft just wants to make their life harder, not easier – as though MS doesn’t want a nice populated app store (the fact that they have two of them – one for Windows 8, one for Windows Phone – is a facepalm of catastrophic magnitude, but that’s an aside).
The truth is, in my view, the departure of Sinofsky is one of the best things that could have happened to Microsoft in years – before he did much more damage.