End of an era: Longtime Microsoft exec Antoine Leblond retires

Last remaining Windows 8 exec exits after 25 years with Microsoft, marking end of arguably the most profitable era in computing's history

Today is Antoine Leblond's last day at Microsoft. According to Ina Fried's report in Re/code on Sunday, Leblond has announced his retirement. The significance of his departure has escaped the notice of many in the tech press -- quite an accomplisment, since for many years he has been one of the most-quoted people in Redmond. With Leblond's official departure, the Windows 8 deconstruction is now complete, leaving behind the largest (and likely most controversial) legacy in the history of the industry.

Fried quoted an email Leblond sent to Microsoft employees on Sunday:

After almost 25 years, I've decided it's time for me to go out and see what the non-Microsoft world has to offer... Every single day I have had here has been amazing in its own way, and I will never look back on all of these years with anything but fondness, pride in what we've accomplished together, and a real appreciation for having been lucky enough to be part of so many awesome things... I am sad to leave all of you, but also incredibly excited for what comes next.

The fact that his resignation came just days before the Build conference -- where he has figured prominently since Build conferences began -- likely isn't a coincidence.

Leblond is the last remaining member of the Steve Sinofsky management team, a legendary group that built an astounding, unprecedented, and controversial series of software best-sellers, from Office 95 to Windows 8, including two of the most popular pieces of corporate software in use today (and my favorites), Windows 7 and Office 2010.

As the recent spate of industry postings confirm, Leblond doesn't get the credit he deserves. I tend to think of him as Sinofsky's kinder, gentler tail gunner.

Leblond and Sinofsky both joined Microsoft in 1989. Leblond started working on Office products before Office itself existed. Sinofsky led the effort to develop Microsoft's C++ Foundation Classes, a key component in getting the Office programs to work together. By the time Office 95 got off the ground, Sinofsky, Leblond, Jon DeVaan, and Grant George were all working together, and they continued to work together, with a few brief departures, for 20 years. Leblond was director of Office development from 1998 to 2002, and in that role he managed to bring together the two warring Office dev team factions, Word and Excel.

When Steve Ballmer called up Sinofsky in 2006 to save the disaster that was Vista, Leblond stayed behind to run the Office development effort. Leblond was running the show (along with Kurt DelBene, who was in charge of SharePoint, Groove, and Project) when Microsoft shipped Office 2010. He jumped to the Windows side of the force shortly after. He held a number of dubious titles while helping Sinofsky bring Windows to light, but he was best known outside the company for his technical chops and his ability to communicate. He blogged frequently about Windows, in a time when Sinofsky clamped down tight on outside communication.

At the Build 2013 conference a year ago, Leblond was one of the keynoters, along with Ballmer and Julie Larson-Green.

When Sinofsky left Microsoft in November 2012, Leblond, DeVaan, George, and Larson-Green were left twisting. Terry Myerson's re-org of the Windows group in September 2013 left all of them out of the management ring. DeVaan and George officially retired in January. Larson-Green spent brief spans as head of Windows, head of hardware, and she's now back to engineering user interfaces. (As a side note, with the excellent UI job offered by the Office-on-iPad team, you have to wonder where Larson-Green will fit into the picture.) Tami Reller, who was in charge of the business side of Windows during the Sinofsky era, and was then CFO for Microsoft, recently handed in her resignation.

Leblond's profuse blog postings have gone silent lately. Notably, he was the public lightning rod behind Microsoft's absurd decision last August to withhold RTM Windows 8.1 bits from developers. (It's still unclear to me whether Leblond wrote the posts or if someone else wrote them for him.) He was also credited last year with promoting the "new features and functionality that advance the touch experience and mobile computing's potential" in Windows 8.1. How the mighty have fallen.

Leblond won't be speaking at Build 2014. Many of us who have watched him perform will miss him. His departure marks the official end of the Sinofsky era, an era that brought Microsoft incalculable riches and earned the company a spot in more than 1.6 billion users' hearts.

This story, "End of an era: Longtime Microsoft exec Antoine Leblond retires," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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