Windows Vista Developer Talks About Quality

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-11-10

Windows Vista Developer Talks About Quality

As Windows Vista entered its final few months of engineering, Jim Allchin, the man who leads Windows product development at Microsoft, decided he needed to appoint someone who could not only ensure that Vista met the companys internal quality goals, but also help the team communicate that effectively both internally and externally.

That person was Michael Wallent, the general manager of the Windows client platform team, who spoke publicly with eWEEK about his role for the first time.

"As we got into end game here with Vista, all of us moved around, and I started working closely with Jim Allchin some two months ago, looking at whether we were at the right place with Vista quality and whether we were nearly done," he said in an exclusive interview.

Wallent has been at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft for more than 10 years on the engineering side, working on the Internet Explorer team before he started working on the new graphics platform, known as Avalon, or Windows Presentation Foundation, for Vista. The team was also responsible for the printing and imaging, XPS and accessibility in Vista.

His appointment came after Vista was delayed several times and its feature set was cut back to meet Microsofts production schedule and quality benchmarks.

To read more about how quality issues were responsible for Vistas shipping delays, click here.

"We have thousands of very detailed internal metrics around quality that all the engineering teams use on a daily basis, so one of my goals was to talk about this in a way that made sense to those people not closely involved in the products engineering and to gauge actual progress," Wallent said.

One of the challenges he faced was all of the different notions people had about what quality actually was.

Wallent boiled down the quality issue to just three things: the amount of time spent on Vista to make the release the highest possible quality; the core quality of the system, which includes reliability, performance and security; and the ecosystem quality, which includes the hardware, devices and third-party software.

To do this, Wallent looked at the Vista schedule in comparison to what the development teams had done historically, even though "it is always really challenging to compare Windows releases to one another," he said.

"With Windows 2000, we released the client and server together; with Windows XP we did the client only, but it was a shorter release as there was less fundamental change in the product," Wallent said.

Click here to read more about how Vista finally went gold.

"When we looked at the Vista milestones, from Beta 2 to launch, they were quite similar in terms of the timing we took in XP. For example, the time between Beta 2 and RC1 in XP was 97 days [and] with Vista it was 99 days; the time between RC1 and RC2 was 28 days in XP and 42 days for Vista," he said.

But an important difference between the two products is that the time between RTM and launch will be 82 days for Vista compared with 64 days with XP. "This is an important time for the ecosystem to get in place to support Vista well, from an application and driver point of view," Wallent said.

A large percentage of the driver ecosystem is now also delivered through Windows Update, and Microsoft continues to work closely with its software, hardware and driver partners to do that.

What is the real compatibility picture for Windows Vista? Click here to read more.

Vista will also ship with more than 16,000 drivers in the box compared with the 10,000 that were shipped with XP, and just 2,000 were made available on Windows Update for XP versus nearly 14,000 for Vista, he said.

Next Page: A question of time.


Wallent said one of the things he was tasked to look at was the two conflicting views about the time taken with Vista, from those who felt it took too long—including CEO Steve Ballmer, who in July said that Microsoft would never take as long to ship another version of Windows&151;to many testers who, even late in the game, were saying that the code was buggy and not yet ready.

One of the biggest differences between Vista and XP is that Vista was a far more ambitious project than XP had been and required a lot more development time, he said, pointing to the fact that XP had taken 115 days from the time that project started to reach Beta 1, while Vista had taken a year from the time that Microsoft had done the Longhorn reset in August 2004 to when it hit the first beta.

What is the business case for upgrading to Vista? Click here to read more.

"Vista also had a lot more features and functionality and we were way more ambitious with what was going to be included there, so these metrics were not bad from a time perspective. It also took about twice as long for Vista to go from Beta 1 to Beta 2," Wallent said.

Asked exactly when development work had started on Vista, Wallent said different teams had started working on this at different times. The Avalon team had started building the new framework in late 2000, while the DirectX team had also started developing the new driver model in that same timeframe.

"So some teams started quite some time ago and have been working steadily since then. Some started before Windows XP SP2 was released, and others afterwards," he noted.

Another significant difference between XP and Vista was that the beta distribution for XP happened almost exclusively through CDs, meaning these had to be shipped before feedback could be received.

"We shipped about 500,000 CDs between all the XP betas," he said, adding that there had been some 2.25 million beta software downloads for Vista.

Click here to read more about how Microsoft has called developers to Vista.

Microsoft has also deployed more than 61,000 Vista desktops internally, compared with just 20,000 on XP, he said.

When Microsoft thought about reliability, it included things like how often the product crashed, hung or got a blue screen, he said, adding that the company had also developed automated tools to scan and catch code errors, which was extensively used in Vista.

It also did a lot of user testing, where a set of people ran a particular build for two weeks and Microsoft watched how many crashes, hangs and blue screens they got on that build.

Microsoft has a scale where, if a user encountered one or none of these, its considered an "excellent" experience; if they had two or three its considered a "good" experience; and if they got four or more its considered a "poor" experience.

"We improved by some 50 percent in Vista the excellent experience people had with XP. We also subjected the code to extensive and rigorous stress tests and so all the data that we have around reliability says that all the new code we wrote, plus the legacy code already in there from XP, is more reliable than ever before," Wallent said.

Now that Vista has gone gold, the engineering team is looking at the backlog of issues, considering the new features they want to write, and thinking about and starting to plan for the next version of Windows, he said, although "that work has been going on for a couple of months now."

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