What Made Microsoft’s New Windows Boss Really Nervous

It was in June 2011 when an audience filled with technology’s elite was gathered to see whether Microsoft’s next version of Windows had the chops to take on Apple.

But Julie Larson-Green, who just yesterday was put in charge of all software and hardware for Windows, wasn’t nervous about the product’s debut at the D conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. She had been working on Windows 8 since the summer of 2009, and her team had tested the top-secret program enough to feel “confident but not cavalier,” she said in an interview last month.

No, Larson-Green was worried about whether the prototype tablet she was using for the first time ever to show off Windows 8 would even work. Even calling it a tablet at that point would have been generous. The device had a plexiglass touch-screen (the same one that later became the screen for Microsoft’s Surface tablet) with wires coming out of it. It was held together with duct tape.

Larson-Green, a frequent Microsoft presenter who said she is still always nervous about going on stage, wasn’t sure anything would happen when she swiped her finger across the screen. The device was still early in development and the company didn’t have any real hardware.

It was a minor miracle that the device even made it to Southern California, past airport security. Too fragile to be shipped, or even put into luggage, the task of transporting the kludged-together tablet fell to Jensen Harris, a trusted lieutenant of Larson-Green’s. The two spend so much time together that they finish each other’s sentences. Put them in different rooms and ask a series of questions and you will get the same answers, like a software engineer version of “The Newlywed Game,” Larson-Green said.

Harris spent the flight with the device positioned between his legs to make sure it arrived in one piece. The sight of a large man with his knees already pressed against the seat in front of him holding something with wires poking out of it earned Harris some “very questionable looks” from other passengers, he said. All the while, Harris sat there thinking, “I’ve got the future of Microsoft between my legs,” he said.

Now it’s Larson-Green who has the future of Windows in her hands.

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