SAN FRANCISCO — A power struggle at Microsoft led to the abrupt departure of Steven Sinofsky, who oversaw the Windows operating system that has been the foundation of Microsoft’s success.
The fissure announced late Monday came less than three weeks after Sinofsky and CEO Steve Ballmer appeared on a stage in New York to hail the long-awaited release of Windows 8, a radical overhaul of the operating system. The Redmond, Wash., company designed it to make its products more relevant in an age when more daily computing tasks are shifting from desktop and laptop machines to smartphones and tablet computers.
Microsoft Corp. didn’t elaborate on the reasons behind the end of Sinofsky’s 23-year career at the company. But all signs point to tensions boiling over as Ballmer tries to weave Microsoft’s products more closely together so the technology is easily accessible whenever and wherever people want to work, play and communicate.
That’s a goal Microsoft rivals Apple Inc. and Google Inc. have been pursuing for the past few years, giving them a head start in a battle that’s immersing technology even deeper into people’s lives.
To achieve his objectives, Ballmer is trying to dismantle fiefdoms within Microsoft that date back to the 1990s when co-founder Bill Gates ran the company. According to industry analysts, Gates divided the company into different engineering silos devoted to each of Microsoft’s key franchises — Windows, the Office suite of software, online services and corporate servers.
When Ballmer became CEO nearly 13 years ago, he inherited the structure and expanded it to include new divisions to house new products such as the Xbox 360 gaming console.
Now that Ballmer is trying to tie Microsoft’s operations more closely together, he is likely facing resistance from company veterans such as Sinofsky, longtime technology analyst Rob Enderle said.
“Sinofsky is an empire builder who is not going to look kindly at someone coming in and telling him he has got to start sharing,” Enderle said. “But Ballmer needs everyone to do the kumbayah thing and come together. They were likely increasingly bumping heads in terms of the future of the company.”
As part of Ballmer’s strategy, Microsoft is expanding beyond software into device-making, which could alienate device manufacturers who license Windows 8. The company’s first tablet computer, the Surface, went on sale with the release of Windows 8 and speculation says Microsoft may make a smartphone.
On Wall Street, Microsoft’s stock price fell 90 cents, or more than 3 percent, to close Tuesday at $27.09.