The real reason Steve Ballmer canned the head of Windows Mobile

Last week, Steve Ballmer removed Andy Lees as president of the Windows Mobile effort. His motivation may be less obvious than you think

Last week many in the mobile community were shocked -- no, really, shocked -- by Steve Ballmer's announcement that Windows Phone Division President Andy Lees would "work for me on a time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8."

To put it bluntly, Lees got sacked. He was replaced by Terry Myerson -- who's still just a VP.

Rumors have been flying like flies on a Windows Mobile landfilll. Lees, who was in charge of the famously flagellated Kin project, has been critiqued from many directions. The Verge says Lees was "benched" because "the gap between his characterization of how quickly Windows Phone would gain market momentum -- publicly, anyway -- and the platform's actual performance had been causing a rift." Which is a polite way of saying that Lees' public prognostications for Windows Phone market share fell shorter than a North Korean missle.

Others note that Lees fumbled several Windows Phone efforts, that he alienated hardware partners, that Windows Phone continues to lose market share, and on and on. Notably, Lees is a marketing guy and Myerson's an engineer.

Here's how I read the tea leaves.

I think Windows Phone under Myerson is about to be rolled in under Steve Sinofsky. Although Sinofsky has his hands full pushing Windows 8 out the door, it seems likely to me that he will try to eviscerate the Windows Embedded Compact kernel in Windows Phone 7 and replace it with a stripped-down Windows 8 kernel widely known as MinWin. Mark Russinovich gave a good overview of exactly how it could work back in an October 2008 blog post. Hal Berenson, former Microsoft distinguished engineer and general manager, put together the details just last month.

I'll bet Lees' departure marks the beginning of a consolidation of all three platforms -- desktop, tablet, smartphone (and maybe even game consoles) -- under the mother of all Windows versions. Sinofsky's been talking about that for years. It looks to me like he's finally pulling the strings together to make it happen.

Don't be surprised if the Windows 8 desktop (for Intel hardware), Windows 8 Metro-style tablet interface (for Intel and ARM), and Windows Phone 8 "Apollo" based on a Windows 8-flavored MinWin (very nearly hardware-agnostic) all ship around fall next year. In many respects the platforms will be as different as night and day. But the Metro interface will carry across, and Microsoft will sell them all -- with some justification -- as being different incarnations of Windows 8, the OS that runs just about everything, just about everywhere.

And they'll all come out on Sinofsky's shift. Well done.

I think the plan for Sinofsky's Microsoft beatification is well on its way -- no doubt as a precursor to Ballmer's retirement.

This story, "The real reason Steve Ballmer canned the head of Windows Mobile," was originally published at 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 on Twitter.

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