Ina Fried

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The Women in Charge of Windows

For the first time in its 30-plus-year history, the person leading Microsoft’s Windows unit won’t be a man.

With the departure of Steven Sinofsky on Monday, Microsoft is handing over leadership of its flagship operating system to Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller, both of whom served as top deputies to Sinofsky.

Larson-Green, who is known for helping craft the user experience for both Office and Windows, will be in charge of the massive Windows engineering effort. Tami Reller, who has served as both CFO and marketing head for Windows, will be responsible for the business side of things.

Reller joined the Windows unit from Microsoft’s Dynamics unit, which runs rather staid software used by midsize businesses. Reller worked at Great Plains Software until Microsoft acquired the North Dakota-based business software firm in 2001.

They will have their hands full.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to both take on Apple’s iPad and reinvigorate the stagnant PC market. Though Windows 8 has made it onto store shelves, Microsoft still faces the daunting task of convincing both mobile developers and those who traditionally write for Windows to create apps that support Windows 8’s new-style apps.

Microsoft is increasingly counting on the Windows team to bring together efforts from across the company, including work done by the phone, Xbox and Office teams. In the statement announcing Sinofsky’s departure, Ballmer indicated he was looking for some better team players in a company known for its turf wars and fiefdoms.

“To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings,” Ballmer said.

Sinofsky leaves big shoes to fill. Though he was a divisive figure, Sinofsky was widely seen as a talented engineer and leader who brought discipline to a massive engineering effort that was struggling in the wake of Windows Vista.

Larson-Green has been a central figure within the Windows team for some time, frequently serving as Sinofsky’s right hand during public presentations, including the debut of Windows 8 at D9 in 2011, and throughout its development. She helped lead the major overhaul of Office that introduced a new “ribbon” user interface, and has also been active in espousing the virtues of the “metro” design language first used in Windows Phone 7 and now used in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Reller, too, has served as one of the public faces of Windows, though is somewhat less well-known outside financial circles.

While Microsoft has had plenty of talented women in its ranks, its upper ranks have remained nearly all male. For years, the highest-ranking female employee has been HR head Lisa Brummel, who previously ran the company’s keyboard and mice unit.

In the late 1990s, Patty Stonesifer ran a large chunk of Microsoft’s consumer products, including MSN and the company’s interactive entertainment businesses.

Here’s a video of Larson-Green’s Windows 8 demo at D9:

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