Ina Fried at Re/code reported late last night that Julie Larson-Green is set to emerge from her role as head user interface designer for Microsoft products and step back into the limelight as head honcho of Office. That move would mark a triumphant return for Larson-Green, whose roots go back to Office XP.
According to unnamed sources, the current head of Office, Kirk Koenigsbauer, is heading over to the marketing group led by chief marketing officer Chris Capossela. There's no hint as to Koenigsbauer's new position or plans, but it seems likely he'll retain the rarified title of corporate VP while reporting to executive VP Capossela.
Larson-Green will retain her current duties in addition to taking over the Office spread. According to the LinkedIn bio for Koenigsbauer, those duties include:
The Office 365 client applications product team. Accountabilities include product development, design, delivery, strategy, and general management of Office applications across Windows, iOS, Android, and web platforms. This includes consumer and enterprise editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Visio, Project, Access, and new offerings for Sway and Office Lens. The team is also on point for the extensibility and programmability for the Office 365 service. The team is distributed globally with development centers in Redmond/WA, Silicon Valley, Boston, Ireland, China, and India.
Apparently Larson-Green will keep the title corporate VP and will continue to report to Qi Lu, executive vice president of Applications & Services. The interface between Larson-Green and Windows/Devices head Terry Myerson seems unclear -- perhaps intentionally. You may recall that Myerson is set to lose one of his top UI people, Joe Belfiore. Back in the glory days, Belfiore was in charge of the Windows XP UI, while Larson-Green was in charge of the Office XP UI. These folks all know each other and have worked together for many years.
People seem to forget that Larson-Green was one of Steve Sinofsky's inner circle. She went to work for Sinofsky in 1997, helped to build Office XP, and continued through Office 2003 and 2007. She and Jensen Harris are widely credited (or blamed) for developing the first Ribbon interface, for Office 2007. Both Larson-Green and Harris jumped from Office to Windows in 2006, following Sinofsky, tasked with pulling Windows 7 out of the fire. She and Harris are also widely credited (or blamed) for developing the tiled Metro user interface in Windows 8.
Sinofsky abruptly left Microsoft in November 2012, and Larson-Green was put in charge of Windows hardware (such as it was at the time) and software, as well as Microsoft Studios -- an odd group that really didn't fit in anywhere. With the Nokia acquisition, she held a role roughly analogous to Myerson's current position. But when Stephen Elop returned from Nokia to Microsoft, a big part of her responsibilities were lopped off. In February 2014, Larson-Green withdrew to a much more limited position as chief experience officer (whatever that is) for the newly created My Life & Work team. I bet you haven't heard much about her or her work since then.
People who know Larson-Green say she's a tremendous interface designer and a more-than-competent manager -- a very welcome counterbalance to the Sinofsky gestalt.
She has her work cut out for her. Office is the textbook definition of a mature product. With the latest release of the desktop versions -- Windows Office 2016 sports only a handful of new features, the Mac version has caught up with Windows but only teeters on the brink of usability -- Office has clearly played out its "more features, more bucks" heritage. Larson-Green's task will be to fill out the package on other platforms without bloating it enormously and keep milking the cow in the face of Google's front-end assault. It'll be interesting.
One important nuance: By replacing Koenigsbauer with Larson-Green, CEO Satya Nadella has once again corralled a marketing type in the marketing corner, while putting an engineer on the front line. I readily admit to being biased, but I think that's a great sign.