Conspiracy theorists will no doubt find plenty to read into the timing of Microsoft’s announcement today of a shake-up in the leadership of its Windows division.

There was Google’s attention-grabbing announcement of an operating system to rival Windows, for a start. Perhaps this was enough to galvanise Microsoft into action – or at least provided a big enough diversion for the software company to slip through a reorganisation without attracting too much attention?

Then there is the pending launch of Windows 7. Is it a bad sign when the man responsible for marketing the company’s biggest product moves on, little more than three months before such an important launch?

The reality, though, looks far more prosaic.

By promoting Steven Sinofsky (pictured) to president of the Windows division, Steve Ballmer is sorting out a management question that has been up in the air since the abrupt departure a year ago of Kevin Johnson.

At the time, it made sense to divide Johnson’s responsibilities. With Windows 7 at an important stage in its development, leaving Sinofsky to focus on the technology while Bill Veghte took on the business and marketing aspects, with Ballmer himself taking overall responsibility, was a way to make sure things stayed on track. Neither man was tarnished by the Vista debacle, having come to their jobs as Microsoft tried to recover from the long delays to that project.

Now with the (well-received) Windows 7 ready and the launch marketing plan pretty much set, this looks like a natural time for Ballmer to resolve the leadership question. Veghte loses out in this reshuffle and is now consigned to Microsoft’s version of limbo – the company says he “will be moving to a new leadership role… to be announced later this year.” In the past, such an announcement has sometimes preceded a senior executive’s departure from the company. But Veghte is credited with bringing some life back to the dreary Windows marketing effort, and his prospects still seem bright.

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