#Steven Sinofsky

Not No Compromise

I know I already snarked this up. But it really is incredible that not only is Microsoft’s worst nightmare coming true, it’s all playing out in a way that’s exactly the opposite of how they thought it would.

Then-Windows-chief Steven Sinofsky, talking about Windows 8 just seven months ago:

Our goal was a no compromise design.

And:

We chose to take the approach of building a design without compromise.

And:

You don’t have to compromise!

And:

Our design goal was clear: no compromises.

Fast forward to today. Ian Sherr reporting for The Wall Street Journal on the latest PC numbers:

Indeed, IDC said that Windows 8 hasn’t only failed to spur more PC demand but has actually exacerbated the slowdown—confusing consumers with features that don’t excel in a tablet mode and compromise the traditional PC experience.

I mean, the dichotomy is almost poetic. Especially to those of us who knew that this is exactly what would happen.

Compromise

I’ve finally read through most of the Surface Pro reviewsnot surprisingly, Microsoft did not send me one (though I did briefly play with a couple last week). What’s hilarious — and already pointed out by John Gruber — is that nearly every single review goes on and on about how the Surface Pro is a product full of frustrating compromises. This is in stark contrast to Microsoft’s statements while building Windows 8 that it would be all about “no compromises”.

I mean, just read Joanna Stern’s ABC News title for chrissakes: Microsoft Surface Pro Review: A Tablet/Laptop Hybrid With Compromises.

It’s almost as if Microsoft time traveled a few months ago to read today’s reviews for the Surface Pro, then went back to try to brainwash everyone with the opposite rhetoric — only to have it backfire miserably. I mean, it’s really amazing how nearly every reviewer came to exact opposite conclusion of Steven Sinofsky’s “no compromises”.

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Steven Sinofsky on the internet figuring out he was using an iPhone:

Moving beyond the gotcha blogs, there’s an actual reason for using technology products and services other than the ones you make (or happen to be made by the company where you work/ed). I think everyone knows that, even a thousand tweets later. The approach in many industries to downplay or even become hostile to the competition are well-documented and studied, and generally conclude that experiencing the competition is a good thing.

Learning from the competition is not just required of all product development folks, but can also be somewhat of a skill worth honing. Let’s look at the ins and outs of using a competitive product.

Obviously you should use a competitive product. You should know what you’re up against when a consumer (or business) ultimately faces a buying decision. They will weigh a wide array of factors and you should be aware of those not only for the purposes of sales and marketing but when you are designing your products.

Sinofsky’s former boss, Steve Ballmer, to Fortune in 2006:

Do you have an iPod?

No, I do not. Nor do my children. My children—in many dimensions they’re as poorly behaved as many other children, but at least on this dimension I’ve got my kids brainwashed: You don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.

"I think everyone knows that…"

"Obviously…"

Gotcha, indeed.

Thus continuing the trend of people loving the “dogfood” when they’re inside a company, and throwing it up when they’re out.

Most of the ones I notice (both with people I know and those in public) are former Microsoft employees. People leave and immediately switch to Macs, iPhones, iPads, Google Docs, Chrome, Android devices, etc.

What I never see is people leaving Apple and switching to other products — PCs, Android devices, Windows Phone, etc. I’m sure there are some out there, but for the most part ex-Apple employees seem to remain “loyal” to the brand. Read into that what you will.

Jean-Louis Gassée on the interesting timing of Steven Sinofsky’s exit from Microsoft:

But if we imagine a different reality, one in which Sinofsky stands before a big Mission Accomplished banner, where critics rave about the beauty, harmony, and impeccable polish of a Windows 8 that runs flawlessly on PCs, laptops, tablets, and Surface-like hybrids…do we think for a moment Ballmer would have shown Sinofsky the door?

Clearly, Gassée agrees with the hypothesis I put forth last week.

I also like his thoughts on where Apple could take app multi-tasking in iOS — yes, borrowing a page from Windows 8. One oddity of the fourth-generation iPad is that it’s almost too fast for current generation of apps. It’s hard to find one that can take advantage of the power offered up. But what about two apps running split-screen in a hypothetical iOS 7? This would also be one hell of a selling point for the larger iPad versus the iPad mini.

I’ll leave it up to someone else to figure out if/how that’s even possible with current screen resolutions and math.

A day later, all of the stories about the Steven Sinofsky departure seem to be pointing in the same general direction:

  • That he was indeed fired (or asked to leave).
  • That he clashed with Steve Ballmer.
  • That he didn’t work well with others.
  • That Ballmer wanted a more collaborative Microsoft.
  • That Windows 8 and Surface sales had nothing to do with it.

What I’ve heard from people both inside and close to Microsoft is in line with all of those things. But I’m still not sold on the last point.

Is it too early to gauge the success of Windows 8 and the Surface in the market? Sure. But Microsoft certainly has their own internal metrics and indicators that give them a better sense of how things are going. I’m obviously not privy to such data, but a 23-year veteran of Microsoft, the man in charge of both projects, was just fired.

It certainly seems like he didn’t work well with others. But he probably hasn’t for the past 23 years. At the very least, that seems to be the case for the past several years since he’s been running the Windows division, and the years running the Office division before that. Both remained huge successes, so no one seemed to care. What changed?

Yes, there are obvious parallels to the Scott Forstall situation inside of Apple. But the overall situation is different as Tim Cook is only one year into the job and felt the need to consolidate power while streamlining internal processes (his M.O.). Ballmer has been on the job (as CEO) with Sinofsky for 13 years. Again, what changed?

My (unsubstantiated) guess remains Windows 8 and the Surface. I think we’ll see this play out in the months ahead.

Sinofsky was the driving force behind the “no compromise" approach to Windows 8. I believe that approach is at the heart of the ultimate problem with the OS. As two separate halves, Windows 8 and Metro seem fine. As a whole, the OS seems like a schizophrenic mess. Microsoft should have copied the Apple approach with OS X/iOS, keeping them separate and slowly merging them over time by taking the best of both.

It was Sinofsky’s call to do the opposite. And he went on and on and on about it as he oddly defined “compromise” by extolling the virtues of not compromising.

Meanwhile, the Surface is a mess. My full review is forthcoming, but it’s hard to imagine why anyone buys this device beyond initial curiosity. Maybe the “Pro” version of the Surface is better and will make some sense, but the initial Surface is another weird combination of things that yes, define compromise.

Ultimately, I have this strange feeling that the strict adherence to “no compromise” with Windows 8 is what led to there being no compromise when it came to Sinofsky staying with the company. We may never know if my feeling is right or not, but the numbers over the next few months should be at least directionally revealing.

Ultimately, I don’t think Forstall gets fired without the Maps situation (and to a lesser extent, the Siri issues and his “no compromise” approach to design). And I think there’s an even more straightforward reason why Sinofsky is out. I think Microsoft can see it right now. And I think we’ll all be able to see it before long.