There’s no chief executive in tech that riles up investors and tech-snoots like Microsoft leader Steve Ballmer.Last year, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital said Ballmer had to go. “His continued presence is the biggest overhang on Microsoft stock,” said Einhorn, later adding that Ballmer was at best a caretaker, and is responsible for nuking billions in research and development money.
As for the tech world, Ballmer’s comments when the iPhone was first introduced have been a constant source of ridicule. He said, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”
Both of those groups want to see Ballmer gone. But, if they were hoping he might leave soon, they’re going to be let down. Steven Sinofsky’s ouster is another reminder that he’s not going anywhere any time soon.
In fact, Sinofsky’s departure is a sign that Ballmer is taking more control over Microsoft, reorganising it to suit his new vision for a more collaborative company.
Now that we’re more than 24 hours removed from the news that Sinofsky is out, there is an official story line about why it happened. Sinofsky wouldn’t work with the other divisions at Microsoft. He wanted to run Windows on his terms, and the rest of the company’s business groups would just have to deal with it.
For a long time, analysts have believed Microsoft should be broken up. The Xbox division should be spun out, the mobile unit should be its own thing, and its online division should have to fend for itself. These groups were trapped inside Microsoft and would compete better on their own, went the thinking.
Microsoft thinks this is crazy talk, especially right now. It believes it has all the major pieces in place to build an ecosystem that’s crushes Apple and Google. Windows 8 should make people want Windows Phones. And Xbox should integrate with desktop and mobile software. Throw in the Office group, which should work on mobile and desktop and you have a great set of software that keeps customers locked in.
Compare Microsoft’s pieces to Apple, which has games from developers, but isn’t the gaming brand like Xbox. And it doesn’t have a great way for businesses to use Office on its mobile devices. Apple TV is growing, but it’s nowhere near as big as Xbox.
Or compare it to Google which is building a big mobile business, but doesn’t have a desktop computing presence like Windows, or a foot in the living room like Xbox.
Microsoft’s ability to exploit what it considers to be an advantage can only happen if those groups are all working together. Sinofsky just didn’t get along with people at Microsoft, so it wasn’t going to happen.
Ballmer could have given Sinofsky more power, but then he would drive away the leaders of those divisions, and he would undermine himself.
So, Ballmer after years of letting Sinofsky accumulate power decided enough was enough. He let Sinofsky walk, and he retook control of the company setting out a path for more collaboration, which he thinks will be the key to beating the rise of Google and Apple.
Is he right? Is he wrong? We’ll see, but, after letting Sinofsky walk there is no question who is really in charge of Microsoft and its future: Steve Ballmer.
Investors and tech-snoots are just going to have to live with that.
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