SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had only praise for Steve Sinofsky, former president of the Windows business unit, saying the veteran executive made "amazing contributions" to Microsoft, particularly the recent launch of the new Windows 8 operating system and the Surface tablet.
"We wish him well and he's always recommended that if you're going to make a change, you make it on a product boundary and he's living his principles," said Ballmer during a Nov. 14 public appearance here.
Ballmer made his comments during a one-on-one interview before an audience of several hundred people at the Churchill Club, which hosts events focused on Silicon Valley and tech industry leaders.
Ballmer was interviewed for over an hour by Reid Hoffman, a partner in the venture-capital firm Greylock Partners and the executive chairman and co-founder of LinkedIn. Hoffman wasted no time getting into the ouster of Sinofsky, asking Ballmer what it meant for the company's strategy going forward.
"We're all in with what we've done," Ballmer said, ticking off recent accomplishments like the release of Windows 8, the Surface tablet—in which both hardware and software are from Microsoft—and the release of devices running Windows Phone 8, the operating system for smartphones.
"We love what we've done [and] we think we're off to a very, very good start," Ballmer said. "Steve [Sinofsky] has made one of the most amazing contributions anyone will ever make to any company."
As expected, Ballmer added no further details of the reasons for Sinofsky's departure. Julie Larson-Green, a 20-year Microsoft veteran, will be promoted to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering, replacing Sinofsky.
Ballmer said that with the Surface tablet computer, Microsoft has done what some skeptics said couldn't be done by successfully developing a device that can be both a tablet computer and a conventional laptop. With his own Surface with him onstage, he demonstrated how the product can be used as a tablet with its touch-screen interface. Then, by adding the Touch Cover accessory that connects to the Surface by a magnet, he converted the tablet into a laptop, adding a keyboard and offering a kickstand that tilts out from the back end to hold the screen upright.
"The notion of the best of both worlds is not the craziest notion in the world as long as you can do it in a way that there's no compromise," Ballmer said.
But he said that Microsoft's introduction of the Surface notwithstanding, the "lion's share" of Windows devices to be sold over the next five years will still be made by Microsoft's OEM partners, such as Dell, HP, Acer and Asus on notebooks and Samsung, HTC and Nokia on tablets or smartphones.
As for Windows Phone 8, which went on sale Oct. 29, Ballmer said he expects moderate growth for the sale of smartphones running the new mobile OS against the market leaders, Google Android and Apple iOS. He said his goal is not to get Windows Phone's market share, now in the single digits, up to 60 percent, but to gradually raise it to 10 percent, then 15 percent and then 20 percent.