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Xbox One: Julie Larson-Green May Fit In Just Fine

Xbox One: Julie Larson-Green May Fit In Just Fine

Fri 12 Jul 2013 3:02pm GMT / 11:02am EDT / 8:02am PDT
BusinessPeopleHardware

Columnist Chris Morris examines what the new Xbox chief means for Microsoft as it launches its biggest product of the next 10 years

Gamers - and the games media - hate the unknown. They thrive in a biosphere where leaks pre-announce major moves and no one is all that surprised when it's made official.

That's what made Microsoft's decision to replace Don Mattrick with Julie Larson-Green so frustrating for some. She was, to many, an unknown. And that quickly led some to question her qualifications, which eventually led to prophecies of doom for the Xbox in some forums.

Larson-Green, they said, is not a gamer. She doesn't get the culture. Her appointment, they said, was yet another fumble by Microsoft in the walkup to the Xbox One.

Bunk.

"I don't know her," notes Wedbush's Michael Pachter. "She's a manager and she's obviously competent or they wouldn't have put her in the job. ... All this talk about 'She's not a gamer? I think that's sexist."

Granted, Larson-Green doesn't have the gaming chops of Don Mattrick, but then again, neither did Robbie Bach - Mattrick's predecessor and the person who established a lot of the policies that led to the division becoming profitable.

"How Larson-Green navigates the early days of the new system should give people a very good idea of what she plans to do with the division as a whole"

And while she does have a couple of marks on her recent resume that are controversial - the Surface tablet and the Metro interface of Windows 8 - Larson-Green has even more victories. A well-respected 19-year veteran of Microsoft, she was also the driving force behind Windows 7 and led UI design for Office XP, Office 2003 and Office 2007. And she's said to be passionate about user interface, a result of her first job as a customer service rep at Aldus, a maker of desktop publishing software, where she dealt with furious users on a daily basis.

Hmm... User interface as a priority? The ability to handle angry mobs? She may fit in just fine in the gaming world.

Still, analysts say they were expecting a familiar name to be put in charge of Xbox.

"I'm pretty surprised," says P.J. McNealy of Digital World Research. "I thought there were some good candidates on the senior leadership team. To go outside of that was unexpected. ... But if the rest of the leadership team remains intact - Phil Spencer, Marc Whitten - then she's in pretty good shape."

While Larson-Green is the public face of the Xbox, she's not the sole captain. Terry Myerson, who previously was in charge of the Windows Phone unit, will add engineering for operating systems - including the Xbox - to his duties.

That forced marriage is somewhat curious at first glance. Larson-Green is the UI expert, but the person running the Xbox's operating system is Myerson. Splitting the division between the two units is a peculiar move on Ballmer's part, given how critical the Xbox One is to Microsoft in the next decade.

The idea, of course, is that Ballmer wants Microsoft to work as a single company with a unified mission. That's an admirable goal, but it often gets sidetracked by reality.

Microsoft is fighting a lot of battles on a lot of different fronts - and a single strategy doesn't always work well for that. The plan to battle Apple for market share, for instance, isn't the same as how you try to lure PlayStation users.

1

In this case, though, it could make sense. The underlying kernel for the Xbox One operating system is Windows 8 - and it will be Myerson's job to ensure that developers who build games for that can easily transport them to other Microsoft platforms, including PCs, tablets and Windows Phones, after they've helped sell more Xbox units.

It will likely be a year or more before we see any sort of impact from the executive shakeup at Microsoft. The roadmap for big projects is already set and, in the case of the Xbox One, there has already been enough disruption.

But, in many ways, the console division is the canary in the coal mine for the company. Xbox One is Microsoft's biggest product launch of the last 10 years - and likely will be its biggest for the next 10.

The Xbox 360 has ruled the sales charts for nearly 30 months in North America, only slipping from the top spot last month as the 3DS surged. The Xbox One was already going to have a hard time maintaining that momentum, especially after the company's numerous missteps before and during E3.

How Larson-Green navigates the early days of the new system should give people a very good idea of what she plans to do with the division as a whole.

19 Comments

Aaron Thibault Vice President of Product Development, Gearbox Software

3 2 0.7
Congrats to Julie! I look forward to seeing what here approach will mean for XBOX. There are already great people working at XBOX and I think her leadership with what we've seen from her ability to focus big teams on interfaces, usability and cohesive platform integration will all be good things.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Tom Keresztes Programmer

695 351 0.5
Popular Comment
she was also the driving force behind Windows 7 and led UI design for Office XP, Office 2003 and Office 2007
The Ribbon is at least as controversial as the Metro, so that would not be a high point....

Posted:A year ago

#2

Aaron Thibault Vice President of Product Development, Gearbox Software

3 2 0.7
Some people like the Ribbon, some people don't, but at least she was willing to push something new and innovative that actually improves productivity for those who take the time to learn how to use it. I'm sure valuable lessons were learned there that can be applied now. My hope is she's ready to apply those lessons.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Tom Keresztes Programmer

695 351 0.5
Popular Comment
Some people like the Ribbon, some people don't, but at least she was willing to push something new and innovative that actually improves productivity for those who take the time to learn how to use it
1. Its neither new or innovative. Tabbed toolbar in Borland Delphi? Source: Wikipedia

From the same wikipedia article:
The ribbon toolbar is an inconsistent collection of large and small icons, some with text; some without. It is also based on Microsoft's premature assumption that their eclectic grouping of items is what most users will want. For many, these assumptions and lack of GUI consistency only add to the confusion, which does not lend itself to a professional user-focused interface.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,161 1,228 1.1
Popular Comment
Dumbest quote in a long time:
All this talk about 'She's not a gamer? I think that's sexist.
What if MS elected a man and he was no gamer? More sexism?

All a gamer has to say to Julie-Larson Green is "make me care". Whether she does that due to being a gamer, or the fact that she is the first person with common sense to hold the position, does not matter.

Don't get me started on UI discussions, there is only the Windows 7 start menu and the Xfce interface, if you are using anything else, you are clinically insane. Statement made in full awareness of all Apple products.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Paul Jace Merchandiser

945 1,433 1.5
This reminds me of when Daniel Craig was picked to play the new Bond. Many long time fans thought it was a bad idea because he had....wait for it.......blond hair. Turns out all those long time fans were incredibly wrong as Craig turned out to be one of the best Bonds(if not the all time best) ever. So yeah, Julie Larson Green will do just fine and I wouldn't be surprised if she also greatly exceeded everyone's expectations. I think the Xbox division is in good hands.

Posted:A year ago

#6

John Morales President/CEO, Way Cool Warez

6 12 2.0
Saying the Xbox is the biggest product launch in 10 years is silly.

Bigger than server OS releases? Or Office? No. Bigger than strategy plays like Azure? Maaaaaayyyybe. I'd argue not.

It's the most visible to consumers, but not close to the biggest or most important.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Ken Varley Owner & Freelance Developer, Writer, Devpac

40 30 0.8
Microsoft Xbox division sounds like a sinking ship.

Not even remotely close to the steady ship that Mark Cerny has directed :)

Posted:A year ago

#8

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,161 1,228 1.1
Ballmer said, he wanted Microsoft to become a "hardware and services" company. If Microsoft wanted, the Xbox One could be their Windows Pro + Office solution in the company space and the PC solution for home and the home console solution for the living room. It is one device which fits all the requirements, provided it runs the right operating system and the right software at the right time. However, it is very unlikely Microsoft will try to pursue its mission statement that aggressively.

It is more likely that Microsoft continues its own tradition of being utterly brilliant in one department, only to have that undone by some crippling decision further down the road. Sometimes it feels as if there are people involved in the Microsoft decision making process who actively try to undermine the company or any department other than their own. To that end, the Xbox One will be great at games and anything else is likely to go down a terrible path, like the Zune, the Surface or the Windows phone.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship

215 440 2.0
I think her being a woman is utterly irrelevant (though clearly not for some) but it's obvious that the personalities and backgrounds at the top of gaming companies do have some resonance (good or bad) with the core audience. Gamers like 'perceived gamers' to head up games companies just like developers prefer software engineers to head up software organisations. Contrast the negative reaction when Green replaced Sinofski as head of Windows with the much more positive press Marissa Mayer gets at Yahoo.

It's simply a useful, albeit blunt, heuristic to help guess what kinds of policies and priorities they'll set for the division.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Jesse HR and HMI consultancy.

15 6 0.4
Xbox One: Julie-Larson Green May Fit In Just Fine

Chris, it's Julie Larson-Green. Hyphen in the wrong place? I think that's sexist.

Posted:A year ago

#11
Congrats to gameindustr.biz for not focusing on her gender. I agree that Michael Pachter's quote was dumb and ironically he was probably the one being sexist.

Anyway, more importantly I think her appointment is more evidence that the Xbox is moving more and more away from being a game console 1st and foremost.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,569 1.7
We had our first discussion at work the other day on a new topic, based on our regular rantings about how every tool we use at work keeps getting fucked up and going backwards. You know, like I can't hardly look at an excel doc without being able to just close it.

That topic was: Is microsoft going to be bankrupt in the next ten years? It was a serious discusion from a bunch of people who were formerly all microsoft lovers at some point.

Doubly surprised to see almost all of our most vocal gripes coming down to one woman. The piece above gave the listing even in the right order for us. The best thing MS can do with her is fire her immediately imo.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Being a gamer is utterly irrelevant. Being a manager is what matters.
Robert A. McDonald is the boss of the company that makes Tampax and presumably is not his own best customer.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

455 443 1.0
Bruce, Tampax is not in the creative industry. A non gamer is less likely to have adequate empathy with and concern for gamers needs when making decisions.

Let me elaborate on this a little. Our decisions are shaped by our dataset and its presentation to the decision maker. An experience with and cathection for gaming produces new data in response to every strategic decision that affects gameplay. It provides a lens to evaluate and think about the effect of actions from a gaming perspective. Without that data set you are in the dark.

As a perfect example, if your only dataset is the balance sheet and cash flow statement of a company now and you had to make a decision based purely on projected balance sheets without knowing the particulars of those decisions other than the financial implications, your decisions would completely ignore ethics, equality, legal practice and everything else under the sun because it is not a part of your data set. In fact this happens every time you buy Maxwell coffee.

If most people had to sit and think about whether they are happy for their coffee to be so cheap at the expense of exploiting coffee grower's weak bargaining power in the price of their produce and work efforts, they may decide differently, but their only data set is the price and knowledge of the taste. Now that's not to raise a big discussion on economics, etc. my point is purely with the difference it makes to the decision maker when they have that information, as is the case with conflict diamonds and pirate DVD's.
It is one device which fits all the requirements ...
You mean like, One device to rule them all?!

Posted:A year ago

#15

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Keldon Alleyne

OK then Bob Iger, Boss of Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Lucasfim etc. Pretty creative. Yet he is not.

Posted:A year ago

#16

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

455 443 1.0
Never said they need to be creative.
She doesn't get the culture
Just think about that one for a minute.

Posted:A year ago

#17
@Bruce. - So did Apple not loose something when they hired Sculley or again when Cook took over? Did Microsoft not loose something when Balmer took over. I suppose you think Zuckerberg could be easily replaced by any hotshot with a Harvard MBA. Ultimately It does matter, plus John Lasseter is the boss of Pixar (in any meaningful way) and Iger is the boss of the parent corporation who also does come with industry experience.

However does it matter to Microsoft that the Xbox One isn't focused on games? What she probably does bring is plenty of experience in the UI and consumer electronics space which I think Microsoft thinks is more important.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Owens on 15th July 2013 5:17pm

Posted:A year ago

#18

Kareem Merhej Designer, infoLink-inc

21 27 1.3
Oh pu-lease. Whether she's a man or woman - gamers always want to see gamers. And it's hard when Sony is parading people like Yoshida-San, Cerny and even Adam Boyes on stage shows. It doesn't matter what is true. The story matters. These people have been painted as gamers and developers. Mattrick, on the other hand, became the poster-boy for "gamer turned into hollow corporate shill".

Posted:A year ago

#19

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