Microsoft shocker: Windows 8 chief Steven Sinofsky out

CEO Steve Ballmer wants better integrated and faster development

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The man who oversaw development of Windows 8 and its offshoot the Surface tablet is abruptly leaving Microsoft just weeks after delivering both projects to the marketplace.

Why Steven Sinofsky really left Microsoft

Sinofsky's departure letter

FAQ on Sinofsky's departure from Microsoft

Ballmer letter about Sinofsky departure

Steven Sinofsky, who was president of the company's Windows and Windows Live divisions will be leaving the company for reasons unspecified other than "to seek new opportunities," according to a letter he sent to employees that was obtained by Paul Therrott's Super Site for Windows.

Apparently Sinofsky will not be replaced as president, but two of his subordinates will split his work and report directly to CEO Steve Ballmer. In announcing the changes, effective immediately, Microsoft leaves unanswered if and when the position of president of Windows and Windows Live will be filled.

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Julie Larson-Green, vice president of program management for the Windows experience, who has worked for Microsoft for 19 years, will be promoted to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering, according to a press release from the company. Tami Reller will retain her current dual role as chief financial officer and chief marketing officer but will now report to Ballmer and take on additional duties.

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In the written statement from the company, Ballmer says he is grateful for Sinofsky's contributions, citing new releases of Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface and others. But Sinofsky won't be part of what comes next.

"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," Ballmer says.

Sinofsky is quoted in a single sentence in the release: "It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft. I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company."

Julie Larson

Larson-Green will be stretched beyond her previous experience at Microsoft in her new job where she is responsible for all future Windows product development and hardware opportunities. This would indicate possible other hardware besides the Surface tablet and the Xbox. There have been unverified rumors that Microsoft may build its own smartphone.

Hardware will be new to Larson-Green given that all her previous experience at Microsoft has been in software. During her tenure at Microsoft, Larson-Green has worked on improving user experience for early versions of Internet Explorer and the refresh of Microsoft Office. She played a major role in development of both Windows 7 and Windows 8, heading up program management, user interface design and research and development of international releases of both.

Ballmer says he is confident in her capabilities. "Leading Windows engineering is an incredible challenge and opportunity, and as I looked at the technical and business skills required to continue our Windows trajectory — great communication skills, a proven ability to work across product groups, strong design, deep technical expertise, and a history of anticipating and meeting customer needs — it was clear to me that Julie is the best possible person for this job, and I'm excited to have her in this role," he says.

As for Reller, she retains her current titles within Microsoft, and the press release describes her role as expanded. It says she will lead the business and marketing strategies for Surface "and partner devices" but doesn't specify what those devices are.

The announcement is somewhat stunning given the fanfare surrounding the launch of Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface, a combination Ballmer says is among the top three most important events in Microsoft's 37-year history.

By all accounts during launch events for the products, Ballmer has repeatedly praised the innovation they represent and appeared thrilled with how well they were executed. The company's statement doesn't address directly what dissatisfaction might have led to Sinofsky's departure.

A native of Washington State, Larson-Green has strong ties to the Redmond area. Besides nearly two decades at Microsoft, she earned a master's degree in software engineering from Seattle University and a bachelor's degree in business administration from Western Washington University.

Reller started off at Great Plains Software in 1984 and was its CFO when Microsoft bought it in 2001. She earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Minnesota State University Moorhead and an MBA from St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter!/Tim_Greene.)

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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