Steve Ballmer gives hearty recommendation to departing exec Steven Sinofsky

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There are no hard feelings between Steve Ballmer and recently-departed Windows 8 head Steven Sinofsky.

In fact, the Microsoft chief executive gave him an enthusiastic thumbs-up tonight onstage, in a discussion with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

“Steve has made one of the most amazing contributions anyone has ever made — to any company,” Ballmer said and encouraged anyone who needed a powerful, innovative executive to hire him.

He referred to Sinofsky’s replacements, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller, without mentioning their names, as very capable ladies despite their lower profiles.

That ebullience perhaps masks the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to Sinofsky’s departure. Reports have speculated that Sinofsky left when it became clear he was not going to be designated successor to Ballmer as CEO.

Or, it might be genuine. Ballmer might be perfectly happy to let Sinofsky — who could be a demanding and polarizing manager — go earn his CEO stripes somewhere else before recruiting him back to run Microsoft in a few years, when Ballmer is finally ready to retire.

Photo of Steven Sinofsky by James Pickover/VentureBeat

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