The software-industry punditocracy of the blogosphere was buzzing earlier today when it learned, from stories first published by Bloomberg and by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), that Martin Taylor, protege of Steve Ballmer and corporate vice president for Windows Live Services and MSN at Microsoft, had left the company.
Taylor’s departure was sudden and atypical. Microsoft issued a terse email announcement:
“We’ve made the difficult decision to part ways with Martin Taylor, but we don’t comment on personnel matters.”
Oh, really? Well, that attempt at refraining from comment appears to say quite a bit. First of all, it strongly suggests that Taylor’s departure wasn’t entirely his own idea. It also indicates that this executive-level exit was not carefully planned and smoothly executed. The public-relations control freaks at Microsoft didn’t get the opportunity to stage manage this announcement. Something unforeseen has occurred within the company’s inner sanctum, but what could it be? At this point, it’s a mystery, but one that will be pursued by many inquisitive minds.
There are some observers who want to believe that Taylor’s departure portends the looming demise of the Microsoft CEO — and the man that so many love to hate — Steve Ballmer. A few commentators point to the close relationship Ballmer and Taylor had established over the years, and they note that Taylor frequently was Ballmer’s go-to guy for major assignments, including Microsoft’s “get the facts” competitive strategy against Linux. Oh, and it should be noted that Taylor and Ballmer also played basketball together on Wednesdays, though I somehow doubt Taylor participated in today’s game.
I don’t think Taylor’s departure is indicative of a bigger boardroom putsch against Ballmer. The suddenness of it, as well as the completely flat-footed handling of the situation by Microsoft’s typically punctilious corporate communications team — Taylor was quoted in a press release that went across the wires yesterday — suggests that something unusual and unforeseen was at play.