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So Microsoft's Windows 8 chief Steve Sinofsky is offski. Was it corporate politics, modest Surface RT sales, or some hippie desire to find himself that made him quit?

Whatever the reason, the news of his departure - just three weeks after Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 and said it was its most significant launch since Windows 95 - is nothing less than staggering. And doubly so given Sinofsky was seen as a future Microsoft CEO.

The fact Sinofsky is leaving immediately adds to the intrigue. When the top brass exits any major corporate there's usually an orderly transition period; at Microsoft, even when executives leave under a dark cloud, they don't vacate their desk immediately. Indeed, poor performance is no guarantee of getting the chop at the Redmond giant. There's no suggestion Sinofsky has done anything career-ending, just as there's little evidence of a smooth handover.

Group president of entertainment and devices Robbie Bach, who was responsible for Microsoft's smartphone failure, and Sinofsky's predecessor Jim Allchin - who led the Windows Vista charge - both clung to power while Microsoft closed its ears to calls for change and its mind to the notion that the buck stops with the boss.

If failure is to be measured on a scale of Bach's mishandling of mobile devices and Allchin's Vista debacle, Sinofsky is no failure.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described sales of the Windows 8-powered Surface RT fondletop as "modest". Also, there are supply problems leading to shortages in the UK and US; devices are slower than expected and they eat memory; the App Store is stuffed with duplicate programs; and the keyboard is falling apart for some users.

But in terms of just Windows 8, Sinofsky oversaw the development of an operating system with a new user interface, and an ARM port of the Windows NT-derived kernel, allowing Microsoft to stretch into PC hardware - at the risk of upsetting computer makers.

Before Windows, he managed successful releases of Office - including a major and controversial new user interface in Office 2007.

Behind the scenes, Sinofsky also achieved what few could do at Microsoft: he changed the culture. He introduced triads, cells each comprising a developer, a tester and a programme manager to speed up development and tighten coding. The triad model stripped out middle management and was so successful it's been rolled into the Server and Tools division and his old home of Office.

So why go?

Sinofsky calls his choice a "personal and private" one. In a letter to employees, Sinofsky said he always advocated using the break between product cycles as an opportunity to reflect and look ahead. "And that applies to me, too," he added.

It's a fine sentiment, but he must have had a major moment of reflection to leave Microsoft less than three weeks after the launch of the new operating system, and just before the arrival of x86-powered Windows 8 Pro Surface devices. Maybe he had some sort of encouragement.

Some cite Microsoft's viper pit of politics. The software giant is a notoriously Darwinian environment: the fittest thrive, the weak wither into the shadows. Anyone upset by Sinofsky's methods and personality would want to exploit fissures in his armour, such as the sales of Windows RT and Windows 8 kit and the bruised relationship with PC makers.

These could be enough to weaken him.

But let's suppose instead it was politics of a different kind: perhaps he clashed with Ballmer one too many times, as others have speculated. Is this credible?

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