Meet Microsoft’s antidote to Vista (software)
Later, she explained that as a woman, she worried that honing the softer skills of marketing might prompt colleagues to take her less seriously as a technologist. Ms. Larson-Green has spent her Microsoft career working deeply on many Microsoft programs, including the Internet Explorer Web browser.
When she landed in the Office software group a few years ago, Ms. Larson-Green was dubious that much could be done to improve the software, which dominates the market for “productivity” programs.
“I felt like it had been that way for a long time, [and] everyone was pretty happy with it,” she said.
Yet customers weren’t quite as happy with Office as they might have thought.
For years, Microsoft had tested software with focus groups and gathered comments and complaints from customers. Around the time Ms. Larson-Green joined the Office team, however, Microsoft was trying a more precise way of garnering feedback. By deploying special software — with user permission — on computers running Office programs, Microsoft could track how people used their PCs day after day.
That helped explain one puzzle in Redmond: why Office users often asked Microsoft for features that were already in the software. The tracking data showed there were functions very few people had discovered deep in the menus and tool bars in Office.
More research and testing yielded a solution — the ribbon, which displayed different commands depending on what the PC user was doing. Then Ms. Larson-Green pushed Microsoft to get even more radical: to release Office 2007 without the hedge of a “classic mode” that would emulate the old look and feel for people who didn’t like the changes.
It worked. Just as Vista was a magnet for complaints, Office 2007 won accolades from software critics and regular users. Ms. Larson-Green proved she had the stomach to challenge a Microsoft legacy. Her reward? The assignment to help fix Windows.
When Mr. Sinofsky was tapped to lead the Windows division, replacing retiring Jim Allchin, he drafted Ms. Larson-Green to come along in a new position created for her.
“Some people are great at having ideas and [have] no discipline. Some people are great at discipline, not much at ideas,” Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said in an interview. “She’s got both of those genes.”
Ms. Larson-Green is already planning Windows 8, although her team continues to tweak the Windows 7 user interface. Signs point to a possible release months ahead of schedule, although Microsoft still says the official plan is for January.
Microsoft’s marketing machine will pore over piles of charts to decide whether Windows 7 is a success. Ms. Larson-Green says her measure will be the conversations she overhears at Best Buy and comments posted by bloggers.
“I think people are going to like it,” she said. Her voice rose a few notes when she added, “I hope so.”