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Panos Panay, Surface general manager, at the unveiling of the Microsoft tablet in Hollywood in June.

Microsoft’s decision to develop its own tablet computer was a historic moment for a company that built one of the biggest businesses in the tech industry by focusing almost exclusively on software. Just as surprising: The company was able to keep the project under wraps until the Surface unveiling earlier this year.

We’ll recognize the Newsmakers of the Year at the GeekWire Gala, Dec. 6 at McCaw Hall in Seattle. Details and Tickets Here.

Leading the team is Panos Panay, the general manager of Microsoft Surface. He is also responsible for the Microsoft Hardware division, which makes the company’s keyboards, mice and other peripherals. Panay won high marks from pundits for his introduction of the Surface tablet’s hardware and design at the June unveiling.

“This was built as a stage for Windows 8,” he said as explained the approach. “That was part of our core vision for the product. It was very important for us that we had the hardware fade to the background for this product. It was important so the Windows software could rise to the surface.”

A Microsoftie since 2004, Panay previously worked on the Microsoft Surface tabletop computer, which has been renamed PixelSense since the Surface tablet launch.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for the Surface tablet, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has made it clear that the company won’t shy away from making more hardware — which positions Panay and his team as critical to the future of the company.

We’re pleased to name Panos Panay to our list of GeekWire Newsmakers of the Year for 2012.

We’re spotlighting all of our Newsmakers on GeekWire this month, leading up to the GeekWire Gala Dec. 6 at McCaw Hall in Seattle. Many of the newsmakers from the list will be joining us and the rest of the tech community that night to mark a remarkable year of news. Tickets available here.

See all of our 2012 Newsmakers profiles here.

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