Slate’s Farhad Manjoo is worried over Windows honcho Steven Sinofsky’s abrupt departure from Microsoft. He — or at least whoever wrote his headline — says that it’s terrible news:
But now Sinofsky is suddenly gone. And while I bet his departure will make Microsoft a nicer place to work, I’m not sure that harmony is what the company needs now. Under Ballmer, Microsoft has long operated like it doesn’t care about the future, missing the rise of the iPod, touchscreen smartphones, and modern tablets. Now, thanks to Sinofsky, it’s finally got a chance to break with that sorry past. So he was a jerk. So what? With Sinofsky’s departure, Microsoft is rudderless at a time of intense competition. He was the firm’s most thoughtful executive, certainly more perceptive about technology than Ballmer. Sinofsky had a firm vision about where the PC industry should go. Ballmer does not. As Michael Pusateri quipped on Twitter, “The wrong Steve is leaving Microsoft.”
Manjoo’s piece is a good read, and I agree that it’s not a given that a more peaceable, collaborative Microsoft will produce better products, but I’m not as alarmed over Sinofsky’s departure as Manjoo is. For one thing, parts of Microsoft not under Sinofsky’s purview, such as Xbox and Windows Phone, are doing interesting things. (In fact, Windows 8’s new interface — radical departure from Windows Phone though it is — was borrowed from Windows Phone.) And Julie Larson-Green, the new technical lead for Windows, was one of Windows 8’s creators; she wasn’t just a foot soldier executing Sinofsky’s ideas.
One other nitpick on Manjoo’s story. He says:
Under Ballmer, Microsoft has long operated like it doesn’t care about the future, missing the rise of the iPod, touchscreen smartphones, and modern tablets.
Seems to me that Microsoft has always been interested in the future — and often pretty savvy when it comes to figuring out what product categories will matter. Where it’s often stumbled, badly, is at doing the stuff that makes Apple, well, Apple: figuring out how to put together hardware, software and services into polished products that consumers love. (Exhibit A: The Tablet PC, which was conceived and released early in the Ballmer era, which began when he became CEO in 2000.)
Sinofsky’s Windows 8 and Surface are unquestionably a wildly ambitious attempt to catapult Microsoft’s most important product into the future — but we still don’t know whether consumers will bond with them any more than they did with the Tablet PC and other past failed Microsoft attempts at futurism. That’s why I think that the jury is still out on Sinofsky’s legacy. Which makes it tough to gauge the size of the hole he leaves behind.