Ina Fried at AllThingsD reported earlier today that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had removed Andy Lees as the President of Windows Phone division. Terry Myerson, who has led the engineering effort for Windows Phone 7 and 7.5, will take over Lees’ duties. Ballmer’s memo was later posted on Microsoft’s News Center.
This news comes as surprise to me. Microsoft just completed a successful rollout of the latest Windows Phone update, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. At the same time, Nokia just started selling their devices in Europe and Asia and are on the cusp of making their highly-anticipated return to the United States. In other words, it is a crucial time for Microsoft’s Windows Phone leadership to ensure the device sales pick up pace and that the boat is not rocked too much.
One way to look at this change is to think that Lees was relived of his duties because he was unable to get Windows Phone sales to a level that could make the platform count. Although, if that were the case, I’d argue that it would be cause for firing him than just moving him out of his leadership role. In this case though, Ballmer has revealed that he is moving Lees to a different position under him, for a time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8. Interesting choice of words. I’ll get back to this point later.
Moving the operations of the division under an engineering person implies Microsoft is now shifting itself to be more engineering-led rather than business/marketing. Back in February 2011, Ballmer had reportedly planned to put more engineering-focused executives in a management shuffle. This move may be in fact be in line with that vision. I like that general realignment strategy because I believe Microsoft needs to get a bit more focused on delivering the vision than just painting the broad strokes.
Back to Lees, I wonder what could the time-critical opportunity be in 2012, in relation to Windows Phone and Windows 8. The obvious opportunity I can think of is a common kernel (MinWin?) between the two, thereby enabling app extensibility from phones to PCs of various form factors. Throw in the supposed Xbox SDK rumored to be based on Silverlight and the just announced Live (SkyDrive) SDK, and you see Microsoft’s vision of three screens and cloud finally coming together. Perhaps Lees is given the responsibility of driving that vision, starting with the next major release of Windows Phone software? After all, he successfully got rid of Windows Mobile and rebooted Microsoft’s mobile efforts in the form of Windows Phone 7.
Until we know what exactly Lees is going to be leading, it will be pure speculation as to whether this move is considered a promotion or a demotion for Lees. Myerson has not been designated as a President yet, which is a bit surprising, but it could also leave the room open for Windows Phone division to get rolled into the Windows division under current President Steve Sinofsky. If Windows Phone shares the core with Windows, it would absolutely make sense to have one President for both the products.
2012 is clearly shaping up to be the most crucial year in Microsoft’s history. Nokia’s upcoming launch in the US, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, ARM Windows, Office v.Next, Skype, iOS Office, Xbox apps, Kinect 2, Kinect for Windows, all are slated to launch some time in 2012. It is a long list and one that does not include anything on the Enterprise side of things. The stakes for Microsoft, which is on the brink of becoming irrelevant in the post-PC era could not be higher. Perhaps this move kicks off the biggest year for Microsoft?