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Meet Julie Larson-Green, the woman who will lead Windows

Meet Julie Larson-Green, the woman who will lead Windows

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Julie Larson-Green stock press microsoft 2100
Julie Larson-Green stock press microsoft 2100

Steven Sinofsky is out at Microsoft. The Windows boss has left the building, and now Julie Larson-Green is in charge. She is now responsible for leading all Windows software and hardware engineering, and she will report to Steve Ballmer from here on out.

Running the Windows team is a huge job, but who exactly is Julie Larson-Green?

A 19-year Microsoft veteran steps into big new shoes

Julie Larson-Green is a 19-year Microsoft veteran, a user-experience evangelist, a self-taught programmer who wanted to work with computers before she ever used one, and a leader who believes employees need to collaborate rather than compete with one another. For some onlookers, she's been the demo lady who shows off Microsoft's latest user experiences on stage, staying focused on the end-user while others talk corporate strategy. Like Steven Sinofsky, she came from the Office team before she became VP of Windows Experience, and during that time current VP of Windows Web Services Antoine Leblond was her boss. With Sinofsky gone, she's climbed a full two rungs higher up the ladder at Microsoft, nearly as high as it goes.

In an internal video interview conducted by Microsoft's Channel9 five years ago, she explains where she started from:

In her high school yearbook, Larson-Green says, she has evidence that she wanted to get her Master's in science and work at a computer company before she ever used a computer herself. She enjoyed math, unlike other girls her age. Her dreams didn't pan out right away, though. She graduated with a degree in business administration from Western Washington University, and her first job out of college was working tech support for Aldus, creator of the PageMaker desktop publishing software that later got sold to Adobe. She taught herself to program, started supporting developers within a year, began writing code, went back to get her Master's in Computer Science, and became a dev lead at the company.

From Office to Windows, a champion of the Ribbon UI

Six years after she joined Aldus, she left for Microsoft, joining in 1993 as a program manager for Visual C++. Microsoft sprung a decision on her, she said, between management and development, and she realized that planning was what she wanted to do most. User experience design became her passion, starting with Internet Explorer 3.0 and 4.0. In 1997, she joined the Office team, and her official Microsoft bio credits her with leading UI design for Office XP, Office 2003 and Office 2007. She championed the Ribbon UI that started in Office and took it with her to Windows when she became the Corporate Vice President of Windows Experience; the ribbon has now migrated as far as the File Explorer in Windows 8.

Slowly but surely, Larson-Green became a public figure at Microsoft, representing the company's latest user workflows. In 2005, she talked up Office 2007, and one year later she demonstrated both that productivity suite and Windows Vista at the NASDAQ in New York City. At D6 in 2008, she showed off multitouch on Windows 7 computers, won an Outstanding Technical Leadership award for her work on Office, and demonstrated a sizable chunk of Windows 7 later that year. When it came time to show off Windows 8, with the whole new touch-centric UI, she was Sinofsky's right hand. She presented at every opportunity, from the initial D9 unveiling all the way through to the October launch of the OS. She appears to handle presenting naturally, devoid of any onstage awkwardness.

A more collaborative approach for the future?

Internally, it's said that Steven Sinofsky ruled Windows with an iron fist, but in that interview five years ago, Julie Larson-Green suggested that might not be her style. She spoke of getting people to work together, getting them all on the same page, of spreading a culture where teams of programmers communicate with one another to build a better product, and of how being a good leader is being someone that people will want to follow. She now faces her biggest challenge yet. Microsoft has shown that mobile is the company's future bet and Larson-Green might just have the right style to unite Windows and Windows Phone together while avoiding the company's well-documented internal politics.

Tom Warren contributed to this report.