Last week, Microsoft’s executive in charge of Windows, Steven Sinofsky made a decision to leave the company after almost 13 years. Most sources cited that Sinofsky’s departure was due to conflicts of personality and clashes within the ranks, bearing stark similarities to Scott Forstall’s exit from Apple. Sinofsky leaving Microsoft was indeed unexpected, as most considered him to be the front runner for CEO once Steve Ballmer stepped down. Two questions arise now that Sinofsky is no longer a part of Microsoft: Who will eventually be the next CEO? And who will head up Windows now?
Unfortunately we cannot say who will take charge of Microsoft upon Ballmer’s departure, but we do know who is taking charge of Windows. Queue in Julie Larson-Green. Julie Larson-Green has been at Microsoft for the last 19 years, before becoming the new VP of Windows Experience she worked on user interfaces for XP but primarily for Office. Larson-Green was the woman behind the ribbon, and although many users claim to hate it, it’s hard to argue that it is a worse experience compared to the previous array of drop-down menus. After working on Office and a bit on Windows 7, Larson-Green became Sinofsky’s right hand for Windows 8.
Larson-Green is the obvious choice to head up Windows for a number of different reasons besides the fact that she was the number two behind the W8 production and besides the fact that she is arguably one of the most charismatic and qualified people for the job. What Windows 8 and what Microsoft really need right now is a unified approach that bridges all aspects of the Microsoft experience. Like Forstall, Sinofsky was very protective of his Windows creation, and for lack of a better term, he did not play nicely with others (others being the additional branches of Microsoft such as Windows Phone and Xbox). On the flip side however Larson-Green is the kind of leader that believes that workers need to cooperate and work with one another, rather than compete. This cooperation and unification will be the key to Microsoft’s success in the coming years, and without it, failure or at the very least redundancy is almost certain.
As we have seen over the last month, Microsoft has completely reinvented almost every aspect and product within its arsenal, laying down a solid framework for the future. For Microsoft’s future to look good though, it is imperative that what is built upon that framework is solid as well. As we have seen in Microsoft’s new suite of products, unification is the name of the game. With Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 both running on the NT Kernel, with all new devices having the ability to sync with SkyDrive, with SmartGlass synchronization between W8 or WP8 and the Xbox, Microsoft seems to be taking all of the appropriate steps from within. Unfortunately, Microsoft was late to the smartphone/tablet game and is now stuck playing catch-up in an ecosystem that does not measure up to what the competition are offering, and therein lays the greatest problem of all.
Over the next year or so Larson-Green and other Microsoft executives will need to extend a sincere and gold-laden olive branch to OEM manufacturers, software developers, and mobile app developers to improve the environment that the new crop of Windows products operates in. When consumers are trying to decide what smart phone they want to buy for the next two years they will want the one with the apps that they are used to. This does not mean that Microsoft needs to have the most apps, but make the apps that it does have really good, update them all day long, and make a sexy and consistent user experience (this last point serves WP8 as well as W8). Google and Apple do it, why can’t you Microsoft? Microsoft will need to work with OEMs to ensure that the physical products that come out meet a higher standard. Nobody wants a 17inch sparkly Toshiba with broken hinges anymore, no one ever wanted that. If OEMs can’t deliver, they have seen what the new MS is capable of, Surface, Surface RT, and the soon to be Xbox Surface and Surface Phone. Microsoft seems perfectly happy to leave OEMs in the dust if they cannot measure up to what Google and Apple have to offer.
I want Microsoft to succeed, really badly. That is not a statement you might have heard me say four or five years ago, but now that Microsoft is the underdog, they are forced to innovate, and that is exactly what we have seen. Apple has taken Microsoft’s old stance of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which can be seen clear as day with iOS. Microsoft is in a crucial point in the company’s history. If Ballmer and friends can’t put up, they may start to look a lot more like RIM, on the other hand, if they continue to keep trying and trying hard, then we may see more really exciting things in the future.