In light of Mr Sinofsky's departure, Microsoft has the following challenges

“Holy Cow – Sinofsky’s gone!”. CRAZY. The President of Microsoft’s Windows division has moved on barely 2 + weeks after the release of Microsoft’s newest and most controversial Operating System – Windows 8. In his wake, he has left Mr. Ballmer, Tami Reller and Julie Larson-Green to mind the proverbial Windows 8 store. My sources are saying that this was more related to Microsoft’s internal politics and Mr. Sinofsky’s somewhat acerbic personality. They swear up and down that this was unrelated to the Windows 8 product, design, architecture and launch. Having said that, this departure leaves Microsoft with some very difficult challenges.

Short term challenge – Prove that Windows 8 is not sh*t.

The timing of this move could not be worse. Unless Mr. Sinofsky is really leaving for medical reasons (and I have no indications that he is), then this is a disaster. Say what you will about Mr. Sinofsky and about his personality, the fact of the matter is that he became associated with Windows 8 as the master Architect. It was clearly his vision and passion that drove a lot of the structure and architecture so his loss will be perceived as a black mark on the product. It may not be right or fair but it’s almost inevitable that this will make OEM’s and industry watchers nervous. Steve Ballmer, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller have a lot to prove. Very quickly, the Windows leadership team need to take steps to assure the world that Mr. Sinofsky’s loss while unfortunate is (almost) irrelevant. They need to prove that not only was this shakeup anticipated but thoroughly planned for. They need to prove that there actually is a strategic long term plan in place and that business will continue as usual. I cover this company for a living and have seen way more of Tami Reller and JLG (on stage and online) than most people. For way too long, to the public, Mr. Sinofsky has clearly been the lone star of the Windows 8 parade. These two ladies need to step up, (re)introduce themselves and in a very public manner, set the agenda. They need to tell the Windows faithful what’s next for Windows 8 and what the medium to long term plans are for the platform. What are they doing to encourage consumers and businesses to upgrade? What are their plans for the Surface and Surface Pro? Is more hardware on the way? The need to be more transparent about long term plans for Windows 8 is essential for one major reason. It’s essential because it is the only real way to show that Mr. Sinofsky’s loss isn’t a critical blow to the product.  Staying silent is not an option at this point. It will be seen as a sign of total weakness, chaos and even worse, Mr. Sinofsky’s absence. Now for Mr. Ballmer, even though he has 99 lives, this is surely the beginning of the end. This was the release of Windows that was meant to be the biggest bet. It was meant to be the transformation of Microsoft from the desktop era to the mobile era. While that transformation is indeed in progress, it’s hard to see how he can keep his job with such a clumsy and messy drama on his hands. This is not the Microsoft that we needed to see in 2012/2013, this is the Microsoft that critics have complained about for the past decade – political, petty and full of infighting. The next few weeks may be critical in defining the legacy of Steve Ballmer.

Long term challenge – Prove that Microsoft is not sh*t.

Windows 8 is a critical step Microsoft need to take. While the case has been made that Windows is not really a central revenue source for Microsoft, (at least when compared to the Enterprise), this version of Windows really is pivotal. Windows 8 is the beginning of the transformation of Microsoft from a stable boring IBM type company to a more youthful vibrant Google type company. Microsoft (to their credit) have taken big risks with this Operating System. They have refused to cede the future to younger and more vibrant companies and are competing aggressively. The loss of one executive should NOT torpedo this transition but it does (re)introduce the questions:
  1. Can they really do this?
  2. Are they really focused enough to put all the petty BS aside, work together, stay united and be successful?
The next few weeks will show us what they are made of. It’s important to remember that Microsoft are attempting a dual transformation with Windows 8. They are attempting to be:
  • The company that creates technology products you want to buy;
  • The company whose brand you want to be associated with;
The stakes for the company could not be higher. Just take a look at the hurdles they have ahead of them:
  • They continually have to prove to investors that investing in Microsoft was the right decision.
  • They need to convince their competitors that Microsoft is a force to be reckoned with.
  • They have to convince OEM’s that this is a platform worth investing time and resources in.
  • They have to convince retailers that this is a product REALLY worth selling.
  • They need to convince developers that this is a platform worth investing time, resources and mind-share in.
  • They need to convince businesses that this is a platform worth investing training resources, time and money in.
  • They need to convince consumers to care at all.
It’s enough to make you start popping pills. Microsoft needs to be a focused, driven company. There simply is not time for all this drama. Some are saying that the exit of Mr. Sinofsky will usher in a more collaborative Microsoft where there is less politics, more transparency and as a result: more tightly integrated products. All I can say is I hope so. The alternative is simply another decade in the wilderness. That’s all from me. What do you think about this mess? Use the comments below…]]>

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