"It's been my dream for a long time to make PCs work the way they should," Julie Larson-Green told me when we sat down a few weeks ago at Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Wash. Windows 8 hadn't yet launched and her boss, Steven Sinofsky, was still running the Windows division.
That quote might be the only thing you need to know about the woman, who as of Monday night, stepped in and began leading Microsoft's Windows hardware and software teams. She will replace Sinofsky, who has led (supposedly with an iron fist) the Windows team at Microsoft since 2009.
From Coder to Windows VP
Larson-Green is no slouch when it comes to logging the years and time at Microsoft. She joined the company 19 years ago as a program manager for Visual C++ and has worked her way up through the ranks.
Larson-Green worked hand-in-hand with Sinofsky on Microsoft Office. Before that she worked on Microsoft SharePoint and Internet Explorer. She actually led one of the most dramatic redesigns at the company when she worked on the so-called ribbon interface in Office. Before Microsoft she studied business at Western Washington University. She's a self-admitted nerd, confessing during our interview that John Hodgman is cute and that he, not Justin Long, would be her type.
A Vision of Windows and Touch
Of course, more recently Green has worked on Windows 8. Now she will step in and fill Sinofsky's shoes, taking over the vision and future of Windows.
"The world of computing has changed a lot since Windows came out 25 years ago. We wanted to reinvent Windows to be what people expect today but we also wanted to maintain the familiar desktop and the apps that people use," Larson-Green said when I asked her why Microsoft didn't give up the traditional desktop in Windows 8.
She wouldn't directly answer if Microsoft would ever give up the desktop, but she, like Sinofsky, stressed the "no compromise" features of Windows 8. "We tried hard to think about how we wanted people to feel when they were using Windows -- we wanted it to be fun and useful. People talk about work life and home life, but in today's world it's not different," she said. "We wanted to make a bold statement -- you can have fun and get things done."
She also cited the other components of Microsoft -- Xbox, Xbox Music, Office, Outlook.com.
"Her unique product and innovation perspective and proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda will serve us well as she takes on this new leadership role. All of the current Windows engineering teams will report into Julie, and Julie will report to me," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote in a company-wide email announcing her promotion. Ballmer highlighted Larson-Green's ability to work with other teams, which many speculate was Sinofsky's main shortcoming.
An Attention to Detail
Of course, I had to ask Larson-Green about her experience being a lead female executive at Microsoft, and whether she felt that had an impact on the development of Windows 8.
"It was really a focus of our whole team to make it beautiful and feel wonderful when you are using it," she said. "Attention to detail -- I can't say I brought that because I am a woman -- but it was a big focus for our team."
The final thing I asked Larson-Green about was the challenges -- the challenges of building Windows 8 and of leading a team. Her answer might be more significant now than it was a few weeks ago before the shake-up and her promotion.
"Managing change is always hard and managing change within the organization about the release and what our goals are is hard."
But ultimately she said it's all about progress and evolution. "You are going to see us progress from here. We have some exciting things."