Microsoft executive Panos Panay has left the company, ending a nearly twenty-year run in which he helped launch the Surface business and took a leadership role on Windows 11. He's going to Amazon, according to Bloomberg, where he looks likely to take charge of the Alexa & devices division.
This is potentially a big deal because Panay most recently served as EVP & Chief Product Officer at Microsoft, a role which saw him leading development on both Windows 11 and the company's Surface computers. His departure was announced today in an email to Tom's Guide and other press outlets, an email that comes just days before the company's planned Surface event in New York City September 21.
Tom's Guide will be at that event reporting live in person, and we expect to hear news on where the company is taking its Bing, Surface and Windows businesses. AI will no doubt be a popular buzzword, but we also expect to be introduced to new Surface laptops, and the fact that Panay won't be at the event to talk them up is a big change.
End of an era
Panay joined the company around 2004 and helped launch the Surface line in 2012 with the little-loved Surface tablet. Later known as the Surface RT (since it ran Windows RT) it was the first Windows tablet to hit the market bearing Microsoft's branding, helping kickstart an entire business category for the Windows maker.
Now, 11 years later, the Surface line has expanded to encompass a slew of laptops, tablets and 2-in-1s that make the company a fair bit of revenue every year. Perhaps more importantly, they serve as Windows flagships that help showcase what a portable Windows 11 PC can be.
I've been reviewing laptops and tablets for years and I think few Surface devices have succeeded at that better than the Surface Laptop Studio, which does a great job of showcasing how usable Windows can be on both a laptop and a tablet—as well as why you want a machine that can be both. I think it's Microsoft's coolest laptop in ages, and deserves a sequel.
Unfortunately, it's one of the few bright points in the Surface lineup.
In recent years I've felt the Surface Go, Surface Laptop and Surface Pro lines have all suffered from a lack of creativity and reason to exist. Each is a completely serviceable Windows PC, but none make a compelling case for why you'd want to own one over, say, the best laptops from the likes of Dell, HP or Lenovo.
As the company moves forward without Panos, it will be interesting to see what (if anything) changes in the Surface lineup. Certainly it could do with a shake-up, as Microsoft's most recent earnings report showed a 20% year-over-year decrease in revenue from sales of devices, which includes Surface computers as well as Xbox consoles.
We'll get our first glimpse of what's to come September 21, though whether Microsoft will make any mention of Panay's departure (outside of today's email to press) remains to be seen.
Today's relatively abrupt announcement of Panos Panay's depature from Microsoft is a bit of a surprise, especially in light of the fact that the company has a major Surface event coming up on Thursday (September 21).
Was Panay's departure tied to a shake-up behind the scenes, or was it just a quick way to get the news out and move past it before the company tries to generate some good press for its upcoming event? What impact might he have on Amazon and its tablet offerings, especially in light of the fact that there's an Amazon Devices and Services event happening Wednesday, the day before Microsoft's Surface event?
We don't know, but one thing is certain: Microsoft's press events are going to look a lot different now that Panos is out of the picture.
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Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.