As we watch Windows 8 move into market, we can increasingly see what was done right and what wasn’t. Clearly Windows 8, which is to a large extent a new OS, is technically not only very well turned out, but it is impressive in both its feature set and its quality. However, most of the hardware that showcases Windows 8 well has yet to be shipped due to major component shortages (mostly touch screens); the OEMs aren’t well coordinated; and even Microsoft’s own hardware isn’t all shipping yet. The former showcases Steven Sinofsky’s (the executive who led the Windows 8 effort) strengths, the latter his weaknesses and, now that the product is out the door, Microsoft is stronger without him.
Let me explain.
One of the big problems in any complex company, and Microsoft is very complex, is getting complex products that require collaboration across many divisions done. Turf issues can make such products impossible and Windows 8 was such a product. To make it successful, the various services that surround it from SkyDrive, to Xbox Live, to what was the Zune music service had to be lined up.
With any operating system, all of the dependencies from drivers to development tools have to also be addressed and the last two times this had been attempted were failures. The product that was to replace Windows 2000 never shipped and Windows 2000 was patched to become Windows XP instead, and Windows Vista was an unfinished disaster when it shipped.
Windows 8 shipped on time and largely complete. That was Sinofsky’s job and he did it well, but he did it by largely ignoring the rest of his ecosystem. He had interesting collaboration issues.
With operating systems, Microsoft is mostly a parts supplier. Its primary customers aren’t PC buyers; they are PC builders. And to get Windows 8 out the door timely, Sinofsky not only largely ignored the OEMs, he helped drive a hardware effort in Microsoft to make them redundant. Even this internal hardware effort was only partially delivered with the ARM-based product showing up timely and the Pro version delayed until after the critical fourth quarter buying season.
The end result is that while the OS arrived on time, the OEMs and particularly the supply channel were largely not on board or ready for it. The end result has been that a fraction of the possible hardware is in market, the OEM marketing programs were either not done or rushed, and even Microsoft’s own hardware efforts were limited by their inability to execute.
Even key parts partners like Intel, AMD and NVIDIA seemed isolated and ignored. And, all together, this reduced dramatically the resources and support at launch.
Microsoft’s historical success is founded on the strength of its partners and Sinofsky largely not only ignored this strength, he separated Microsoft from it.
Microsoft’s strength, and the success of Windows 8, will largely be tied to how well hardware sells with it. The market isn’t, nor is it likely to be anytime soon, all Surface. As a result of the way Sinofsky brought Windows 8 to market, the OEM relationships now need to be rebuilt and strengthened and that wouldn’t likely be possible with the guy who broke them in the first place leading that effort. As a result, while Windows 8 likely wouldn’t exist without Sinofsky, it now can’t reach its potential with him, and someone else will likely be far more successful going forward.
In the end, for Microsoft to reach its potential, it will need its partners back and putting Windows into the hands of someone who will now focus on that is critical to achieving that goal. Sinofsky wasn’t that person and, therefore, Microsoft and Windows 8 are now better off without him.