In full throated defense of Steven Sinofsky.

The King is dead, all hail the King! It’s been interesting to hear all the reactions to this departure/firing. Microsoft insiders seem to have reached a consensus that this firing/departure was for the best. Analysts are concerned that his absence may be detrimental to the future of the company. Those in Microsoft leadership have (as expected) pretty much just moved on. He has now officially become part of Microsoft’s past. Just another high strung, well paid employee who made his mark but overstayed his welcome. I have (of course) a slightly more contrarian view. I have heard all the rumors and feedback about how Mr. Sinofsky was hard to work with. I have heard about how he was (too) fiercely protective of the Windows brand and did whatever he needed to do to get his way. I have heard people call him all kind of names from asshole to high maintenance to difficult. I agree. I think he was probably all those things and may actually have needed to be.

Context is important

People need to think deeply about the kind of company Microsoft had become and was rumored to be. Let’s think of some of the words and phrases associated with the old Microsoft:
Slow. Timid. Leading from behind. Dormant. Lack of innovation. Thinking inside the box.
Why in the world would a company like this need happy warriors and team players? More people to smile and say everything’s great, let’s hold hands as we jump off the cliff together?
  • Seems to me team players got us Windows Vista. The asshole wasn’t responsible for that.
  • Seems to me that team players didn’t get Windows 7 shipped on time. It was the asshole.
  • Windows 7 is the best selling Microsoft OS of all time. What an asshole!
  • Seems to me that team players didn’t get Windows 8 shipped on time. It was the asshole.
  • Seems to me that team players didn’t come up with the vision for a new version of Windows that would be an ecosystem as opposed to another product. Seems like the asshole had a lot to do with that too.
During his tenure at Microsoft, he was involved with/responsible for:
  • Microsoft Foundation Classes C++ library for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Visual C++.
  • Microsoft Office 95
  • Microsoft Office 97
  • Microsoft Office 2003
  • Microsoft Office 2007
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • Microsoft Office 2000
  • Windows Live Wave 3
  • Windows Live Wave 5
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Windows 7
  • Windows 8
Pretty impressive. Look I get that he may have been difficult to work with and may have been tough as nails when he didn’t get his way. I get it. But I also know that to get things done in a large organization, empirical evidence shows us that those are traits that are often associated with success.
Gates. Ellison. Jobs. Ballmer. Page. Brin. Zuckerberg. Whitman. Fiorina.
All names of successful CEO’s who have changed history by bending the future their way. I wouldn’t call any of those individuals happy warriors – would you? Yet we know their names. As an example, Steve Jobs told us that if we had reception problems with our iPhone 4’s, we needed to hold them differently. An asshole I guess.

When it works, they call you visionary, when it doesn’t, they call you difficult or asshole.

While I probably would have HATED to work for him at Microsoft, I will sorely miss Mr. Sinofsky’s presence at the company. I remember reading his Windows 8 development blog and being impressed at the level of transparency that the development of Windows 8 had. I covered this from the beginning and I can tell you, it was a fantastic exercise. He made you think through the future of Windows and had lots of challenging questions and concepts for the viewing public to chew on. I disagreed with some of the major changes he made to Windows and it was thrilling when he pointed out a blog post of mine and basically said he disagreed. I thought the Start Menu should have stayed, he disagreed. I thought that users should be able to boot straight into the desktop, he disagreed. I thought that Windows 8 for tablets should have been a separate OS, distinct from what we know as Windows. He disagreed and might have been right about that last one. However this ends with Windows 8, I have to say that the transparent development process was for the most part (from the outside looking in) masterful. The bottom line is, he had a plan and had the guts to stick to it. You have to respect that. Microsoft have their wish now. The asshole is gone. They are getting their “team players” together for a more harmonious and cohesive Microsoft. This should be interesting to watch. I know I have my popcorn out. My gut says, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. That’s all from me, your turn. What did you think of Mr. Sinofsky?]]>

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