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Q&A

Making Microsoft a Little More Like Google

Julie Larson-Green has had a lot of jobs at Microsoft over the past two decades. Her latest might be the most important, even though it dropped her lower on the org chart.

Since last year, Ms. Larson-Green has been in charge of unifying the look and feel of all major software groups, from Office to Bing to Skype. Her job, in a nutshell, is to bridge the gap between Microsoft’s dueling identities of consumer and enterprise software. That task has proved thorny for players like Google and Dropbox, neither of which have Microsoft’s burden of a 40-year history and more than 100,000 employees.

But with Microsoft’s Windows business sharply threatened by the fading of the PC, making sure people continue to use—and pay for—programs like Office and Skype is vital for Microsoft if it wants to compete with Google and others for people’s attention. Consumer traction is more important than ever because Microsoft has transitioned to a “freemium” model for its flagship apps, where basic versions are free and people pay for extra features.

Ms. Larson-Green’s fingerprints have shown up on the versions of Office made for Android tablets and Mac. It will be her job to figure out how to merge design-focused productivity apps like Acompli, Sunrise and 6Wunderkinder, which Microsoft bought in recent months, into the rest of the company’s product lineup.

She was famously the first woman to co-lead the Windows group before moving over to Microsoft’s devices business to oversee Xbox, Surface and other hardware. When then-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop returned to Microsoft and took over the devices business in 2013, she was moved under Qi Lu, who runs Microsoft’s applications and services group.

The Information chatted with Ms. Larson-Green at Microsoft’s Bellevue, Wash., office about making the company’s software teams more user-focused and her mission to persuade customers to use the company’s products at home as well as work. Edited excerpts below.

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There’s a huge opportunity based on the amount of work data and pattern matching that we have on what you’re doing and the intent [signals] you give us about what you’re trying to achieve, depending on the device, the time of day and the other people who might be in the room. There’s a lot we can do to lower the barriers to using technology.

Doug Crets and Joshua Platt commented on this article.
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