The shocking departure of Microsoft's CEO-in-waiting: 4 talking points

Steve Sinofsky, who was quietly being groomed to take over the company, is out. And many tech insiders are still trying to pick their jaws up off the floor

Windows president Steven Sinofsky (left) laughs with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during a 2009 presentation. Sinofsky has abruptly resigned after 23 years at the company.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Microsoft, Erik S. Lesser)

Windows President Steve Sinofsky was widely believed to be next in line for Microsoft's top job when CEO Steve Ballmer eventually steps away from day-to-day leadership duties at the legendary technology company. But now, Sinofsky is suddenly out of a job altogether, and the news couldn't come at a weirder time. Microsoft just launched Windows 8, its high-profile gamble in the world of touch-based computing, and the Surface, the platform's new tablet. Sinofsky, who joined Microsoft as a software design engineer in 1989, led the development and marketing of the company's flagship product for more than three years. But now, "with the general availability of Windows 8/RT and Surface, I have decided it is time for me to take a step back from my responsibilities at Microsoft," Sinofsky wrote in his goodbye memo. What does his departure mean for Microsoft? Here, four talking points:

1. Sinofsky didn't play well with others

The official statement says Sinofsky's departure was mutually agreed upon. But don't be fooled: "Sinofsky felt that he deserved to be Microsoft's next CEO, and wanted to be designated as Steve Ballmer's successor after Windows 8 shipped," says Owen Thomas at Business Insider. Sources say Sinofsky claimed that if he didn't get it, he'd quit. Ballmer, however, has previously indicated that he plans on running Microsoft for another five to six years, and seems to have decided to call Sinofsky's bluff. Another issue: Sinofsky, according to insiders, is an "abrasive, polarizing figure" with an "outsized ego," says Dan Lyons at ReadWrite. Sources say the split comes "amid growing tension between Sinofsky and other top executives," says Ina Fried at All Things D.

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2. And this may have been a long time coming

"My guess, looking from the outside, is Ballmer decided to get rid of Sinofsky a while ago, and told him to finish up Windows 8 and then get out," says ReadWrite's Lyons. Still, "it's a little surprising to see a departure of someone at this level in charge of so many products with such immediacy, with no transition period," Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner Inc., tells Bloomberg Businessweek.

3. The shakeup couldn't come at a worse time

A long time coming? Why would an executive leave a company he's been with for 23 years right after the launch of a major product? If anything, this news is "completely unexpected given Sinofsky's successful track record," says Casey Chan at Gizmodo, and "absolutely stains the launch of Windows 8."

4. His replacement has already been named

Julie Larson-Green will take over, and "is no stranger to Windows," says Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. She last served as Microsoft's Corporate Vice President, Program Management, Windows Client, with somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 program managers, researchers, content managers, and other employees reporting to her. Larson-Green has also held user experience leadership positions working on a variety of products, including early versions of Internet Explorer and several recent iterations of Office.

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