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Win 8 man Sinofsky's 'retirement' deal: $14m shares, oath of silence

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Windows 8 architect Steven Sinofsky has officially “retired” from Microsoft having inked a deal in which he cops a share payout worth $14m in exchange for not joining the competition.

The agreement comes six months after he unexpectedly left the company.

The deal was revealed as Microsoft closed its fiscal year. The company also looks set to move the people who assumed Sinofsky’s responsibilities in the Windows group on to new activities. This could see Sinofsky's former group merged with the Windows phone operation.

According to a Microsoft SEC filing, here, Microsoft has agreed to buy Sinofsky out of the outstanding stock he held up to the end of fiscal 2012 and half of his unvested stock for fiscal 2013 - that's 418,361 shares.

At today’s price, that value is calculated to be $14m; although payments will be made through to August 2016 on their vesting date, so that price could fluctuate.

In return, Sinofsky has agreed not to join unnamed competitors to Microsoft, poach Microsoft staff or disparage Microsoft. He will continue to comply with Microsoft Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).

Curiously, Microsoft has also agreed to cover Sinofsky against legal claims stemming from his time working at Microsoft while insisting he must assist his former employer in litigation brought by or against Microsoft.

Sinofsky left Microsoft mid-way through the launch cycle of Windows 8 and Surface in November 2012, with the Intel-based Surface Pro slabs yet to be released.

Neither Microsoft not Sinofsky has given any reason for the exit. At the time, Sinofsky mysteriously called his choice "personal and private", saying he was following his own advice of taking a break between product cycles to "reflect and look ahead". He has since landed as an "executive in residence" at Harvard University while his Twitter account says he is on a sabbatical. Sinofsky had been with Microsoft 23 years, rising through the ranks to lead the Office and then – since 2009 – the Windows Group, where he supervised Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Since his exit, Microsoft has reversed direction on Windows 8 following an outcry and tanking PC sales, releasing the preview of an update that re-introduces a Start Button to help people find their apps, lets you boot to the desktop instead of the new Metro touch-tile UI, and lets you re-size apps from the Windows Store.

Sinofsky is not the first Microsoft exec whose departure has been classified as a retirement – former Information and Device chief Robbie Bach also “retired” in 2010.

The settlement comes as Microsoft is reported to be close to one of its usual bouts of re-organization and management shuffling. Julie Larson-Green, who took over the engineering facet of Sinofsky’s role after he left, is reported to be headed towards overseeing hardware engineering for the whole company, giving her oversight for Surface, Xbox and mobile. Tami Reller, running the business and marketing of Windows, will take over a marketing unit.

Windows Phone software chief Terry Myerson is reported to be getting added responsibility for Windows engineering in a group that would combine Windows and Windows mobile.

Satya Nadella, head of the server and tools, will oversee a unit focused on cloud computing and products for corporate customers, while online vice president Qi Lu will run an applications and services engineering unit comprised of online businesses. Tony Bates, head of Skype, will be moved to acquisitions and “relationships with software developers".

Microsoft has refused to comment on any of the changes.

If true, the reshuffle should be enacted and announced soon, so as to take effect covering most of the new fiscal year that began on 1 July. ®

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