Can This Exec Be Microsoft's Jony Ive?

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) wants to be a devices-and-services company. The "devices" part of that corporate transformation is an ambitious shift from Microsoft's software roots. Surface is just the beginning, and it's inevitable that Microsoft will continue expanding its first-party hardware offerings like never before.

With relatively little meaningful experience in hardware, who will lead Microsoft's push into becoming a device maker?

Trying something new
Bloomberg Businessweek believes that Julie Larson-Green may be preparing to take charge of all of Microsoft's hardware engineering and design as part of an internal restructuring that's in the works. That would be a similar position to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) industrial design chief Jony Ive, hardware engineering head Dan Riccio, or former hardware guru Bob Mansfield. Mansfield had been Apple's hardware chief for a long time before a planned retirement that he cancelled, returning to the company as head of "Technologies."

Larson-Green is one of two execs that took over Microsoft's Windows division in the wake of Steven Sinofsky's departure late last year, with Larson-Green taking on responsibility for Windows hardware. If the reports turn out to be accurate, Larson-Green will be responsible for hardware engineering of all devices, which primarily means Xbox and Surface right now, although, presumably, would encompass Microsoft's future forays into hardware.

With Don Mattrick leaving to become CEO of Zynga, someone has to take over Xbox hardware. The Wall Street Journal also has some idea of who may take over the Xbox segment strategically when the time is right, but Steve Ballmer reportedly doesn't have anyone lined up immediately.

The challenge may be that Larson-Green has historically specialized in software and interface. During her many years within Microsoft's business division, she led user interface design for Office XP, Office 2003, and Office 2007. Before that, she played a role designing the interface for early versions of Internet Explorer, Microsoft's flagship browser.

As the tech giants continue to broaden their focus to include hardware, software, and services, they've expanded the requirements for execs. For instance, Apple's Jony Ive has always specialized in hardware and design, but now he leads interface design, as well.

Within the three biggest tech players, each has strengths in different areas. Apple does hardware best, Microsoft knows software, and Google is the top dog in services. Each also has weaknesses. Apple has always lagged in services, and neither Microsoft nor Google has a strong track record in hardware.

With hardware being one of Microsoft's biggest soft spots, can Julie Larson-Green make a name for herself in hardware?

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