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Another Microsoft Trojan? Sinofsky might just want a RIM job

OPERATION ELOP TWO is GO! Maybe

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Analysis You are the Mussolini of Microsoft: you have the engineering operations of Windows and Office running on time, smashing their reputation for lateness.

You’ve run the $18bn Windows business unit for Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, and been in charge of the division building Office, the planet’s dominant personal productivity suite on the PC.

Your name was even starting to be dropped as a possible chief executive of Microsoft on the back of your latest creation, Windows 8. Yet after 23 years' of loyal service you suddenly find yourself without a job.

What’s next?

This is the question for Steven Sinofsky, who until Tuesday was the president of one of Microsoft’s biggest business units – Windows and Windows Live.

If you believe Sinofsky, he’s not looking for a job right now: he’s taking a break between product cycles, a move he’s encouraged others to make.

But no mentally functioning individual would, or should, believe this, given the importance of the work he was performing and his responsibilities inside Microsoft.

It’s not like Sinofsky needs the work: his 2012 remuneration package was worth more than CEO Steve Ballmer's, amounting to $8.5m. This included $658,333 in salary, an $1.5m bonus and stock and other allocations.

But somebody of Sinofsky’s character is an alpha-level, high-achiever type controller - somebody who doesn’t just run operations but changes their processes and structures to suit his vision of the world. He installed the culture of triads at Microsoft and even wrote a little orange book on how to manage.

It would seem logical for Sinofsky to land at another tech company. But where? Non-compete agreements in his contract with a company involved in so many markets will prevent him from joining many other tech employers - at least in the short term.

One option around this would be to "do an Elop", and join a company that suits both Microsoft and his new employer.

Stephen Elop was the president of Microsoft’s Business Division, home to Office, until September 2010, when he resigned and straight away became CEO of Nokia.

He moved to a company in crisis, with falling market share, and soon a strategic review was conducted - famously leading Elop to dump Nokia’s work with Symbian and Linux in favour of Windows Phone. This inevitably led to a whiff of suspicion of conspiracy.

“Are you a Trojan Horse?" a heckler screamed at Elop after the Canadian's keynote speech at Mobile World Congress in 2011. “The obvious answer is no,” Elop responded.

But, let's imagine the Sinofsky move was some brilliantly conceived long play by Ballmer. In this scenario, Sinofsky would go to a company in a sector that would prove beneficial to Microsoft. But who and where?

Hardware would be the obvious move, whether it’s devices or PC, given Microsoft is now making Surface and is rumoured to be building its own phone.

RIM job for Microsoft's man?

One candidate is RIM, which has a fresh CEO but one who hasn’t managed to arrest the handset-maker’s market slide or raised its game among devs.

Two years into Microsoft’s supposed mobile rebirth with Windows Phone 7, and despite the Lumias coming from Elop’s Nokia, Windows Phone still has just 3 per cent market share. That's compared to 70-plus per cent for Android.

A RIM job and a strategic alignment could help Windows Phone on market share over time and it would give Microsoft control over a manufacturing process for any Microsoft phones. However, it would sour the relationship with Nokia, which would fret about being denied exclusive access to new features in new versions of Windows Phone.

How about another hardware move: Sinofsky is hired by a PC maker. Again, plausible given the arrival of Surface and the fact Microsoft has been hit hard by supply shortages on Windows RT Surfaces. PC makers, meanwhile, are struggling with falling revenues and profits, and market share.

Hewlett-Packard is probably out as it, too, as it has a relatively new CEO in Meg Whitman. She’s already engaged in executing on a turnaround plan and has given herself until 2016 to deliver.

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