Windows head Steven Sinofsky makes sudden departure

Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division and widely tipped as a future CEO, has left the company just three weeks after the launch of his division’s flagship product, Windows 8.

His role will be taken over by Julie Larson-Green, who will lead all Windows software and hardware engineering, and Tami Reller, chief financial officer and chief marketing officer, who will now take on responsibility for the business of Windows. Both will report directly to CEO Steve Ballmer.

“I am grateful for the many years of work that Steven has contributed to the company. The products and services we have delivered to the market in the past few months mark the launch of a new era at Microsoft. We’ve built an incredible foundation with new releases of Microsoft Office, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface, Windows Server 2012 and ‘Halo 4,’ and great integration of services such as Bing, Skype and Xbox across all our products,” says Ballmer.

“To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”

Sinofsky joined Microsoft in 1989 as a software engineer, rising to become head of Windows engineering in 2006, at a time when the company was suffering from the unpopularity of Windows Vista. He went on to bring Windows 7 to market.

While Sinofsky’s departure is being billed as a mutual decision, it’s a sudden move and has taken the industry by surprise. Many observers believed he was in the running to eventually replace Ballmer as CEO.

In the past, he’s been criticized for a heavy-handed approach with the company’s engineers and clashes with other top managers. It seems likely, though, that there’s something more specific behind his departure – poorer-than-expected sales of Windows 8, perhaps. Microsoft’s Windows division has been performing worse than expected, and Sinofsky failed to win his full bonus this year because of a fall in sales.

In a letter to employees, he described his leaving as ‘a personal and private choice’, and said that the suddenness of the move was all about ‘making space for new leaders as quickly as possible’. Really?