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Originally published November 12, 2012 at 9:43 PM | Page modified November 13, 2012 at 10:30 AM

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Microsoft Windows chief Steven Sinofsky leaves abruptly

The announcement came barely two weeks after Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 with launch events in New York City in which Sinofsky figured prominently.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Steven Sinofsky

Stepping down as president of Microsoft's Windows division

Age: 47

Microsoft career: Joined Microsoft in 1989. Became vice president of Office in 1998, and senior vice president the next year. In 2006 took over the Windows & Windows Live engineering group; named president of the Windows & Windows Live division in July 2009.

Early impact: Bill Gates credited Sinofsky and fellow Microsoft exec J Allard as the "instigators" who alerted him in 1994 to the emerging importance of the Internet.

Compensation: Base salary of $658,000 and total compensation of $8.6 million for the fiscal year that ended in June.

Source: Seattle Times archives, company reports

Seattle Times business staff

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In a move that surprised many, Microsoft announced late Monday that Steven Sinofsky, the exacting and controversial president of Windows and Windows Live, had left the company just weeks after delivering the radical revamp of its flagship software product, Windows 8.

The announcement came barely two weeks after Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 with launch events in New York City in which Sinofsky figured prominently.

With his departure, Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's corporate vice president of program management for Windows, will be promoted to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering, the company said. She will be responsible for all product development for Windows and Windows Live, in addition to the Surface tablet.

Tami Reller will retain her roles as chief financial officer and chief marketing officer for Windows and also assume responsibility for the business of Windows, including leading business and marketing strategy.

Both Larson-Green and Reller will report directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

All the changes are effective immediately. Sinofsky's last day was Monday.

Microsoft gave no reason for Sinofsky's departure but indicated the decision was mutual.

"It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft," Sinofsky, 47, a 23-year Microsoft veteran, said in a statement. "I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company."

Ballmer said in a statement that he was "grateful for the many years of work that Steven has contributed to the company. The products and services we have delivered to the market in the past few months mark the launch of a new era at Microsoft."

Sinofsky was named head of the Windows division in 2009. Before that, he had been senior vice president of the group with two other senior vice presidents, Bill Veghte and Jon DeVaan.

Sinofsky's leadership has been credited with being part of the reason for the company's comeback after the delay- and bug-prone launch of Windows Vista, and for the well-received launch of Windows 7.

"He's accomplished a lot for Windows, bringing it back from the brink of disaster after Vista," said Rob Helm, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.

Before working on the Windows team, Sinofsky oversaw the development of the Microsoft Office system of programs, servers and services.

As Windows president, Sinofsky was known for being demanding and also for keeping the trains running on time, driving his engineering team to deliver products according to schedule.

Windows 8 launched on schedule to mixed-to-positive reviews, with some reviewers praising its innovative design and user interface, and others finding some elements of the new interface unintuitive to use. Most reviewers noted the lack of apps for the new platform.

Sinofsky has also made missteps.

Under his leadership, Microsoft did not include a browser choice option for certain PCs sold in the European Union — something the company had agreed to do to settle antitrust issues.

Because of that, the EU is considering fining the company, and Sinofsky was dinged for it by Microsoft's board of directors.

He's also been a controversial and polarizing figure. He can be difficult to work with, reportedly clashing with other executives and sometimes company partners.

"Sinofsky's disruptive way of working is no secret, and you can only get away with it if you're wildly successful," said Michael Silver, an analyst with research firm Gartner.

"This may mean that Windows 8 is not as successful as he needed it to be," Silver said. "Overall, it doesn't change how customers should look at Windows, but with the turmoil, it likely doesn't get Microsoft to where it needs to be vs. Apple."

In a memo to all employees Monday announcing Sinofsky's departure, Ballmer did not speak to that issue.

But he did point to what seems to be a contrasting set of skills and traits possessed by Larson-Green — skills that perhaps are more timely now that Windows 8 has launched and the focus shifts to building relationships with partners and developers who create apps for the ecosystem.

Larson-Green's "unique product and innovation perspective and proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross-company agenda will serve us well as she takes on this new leadership role," Ballmer wrote.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Gartner, said it isn't surprising that an executive would leave after completing a major project such as Windows 8.

But "the immediacy with which he appears to be departing is somewhat surprising," Gartenberg said.

"No matter the reasons for the departure, the challenge for Microsoft isn't going to be about finding a technical replacement to lead Windows development or Windows marketing development," Gartenberg said.

Sinofsky had come to represent the idea of Microsoft as an "ecosystem player" with interconnected software, hardware and services, rather than just a software company, Gartenberg believes.

"The real question for Microsoft is will it revert back to its old ways of doing business or will they be able to keep some of the changes" Sinofsky was trying to make at the company.

Gartenberg also said that, now that Windows 8 has launched, "I'd expect we'll hear more changes about who's going to be running what in the coming days."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu.

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