Allchin: Staying the Course on XP

Microsoft exec addresses issues surrounding forthcoming launch of OS

As the countdown to Microsoft Corp.s Oct. 25 launch of Windows XP marches on, the product and the Redmond, Wash., company continue to face scrutiny from competitors, partners, legislators and the Justice Department. Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsofts platform group, took time out this month to discuss many of the issues surrounding the launch with eWeek Senior Editor Peter Galli.

eWeek: What effect does the U.S. Court of Appeals announcement that it will not reconsider its decision that Microsoft illegally integrated its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system have on your technical and release plans for Windows XP?

Allchin: Right now, I have no plans to change anything. We think this is a technical discussion best had with the attorneys. Im trying to put together the best product I possibly can. I do not see this, or any of the other legal challenges, as an impediment to the release of Windows XP at this point.

eWeek: After much public controversy, Microsoft decided to drop smart tags from Windows XP. But you left the door open for them to be reinstated later. Why did you decide to drop them from this release, and what are your specific plans for including them in another product?

Allchin: We dropped it because we listened to feedback. A lot of people misunderstood what was going on, and there were a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about the way the technology worked. The claims that we were driving people to Microsoft-chosen Internet sites was nonsense. However, there were concerns about whether it was as simple and obvious for the Web service vendors who may or may not want to participate in the initiative. There was ... feedback that led us to believe we should go out and have more meetings with the content owners and show them how smart tags can work to their advantage. The point is that this is an open platform, but I felt that given where we were and all the controversy around it ... we wouldnt have enough time to really address all that feedback.

So I just decided that for now—although Im still a believer that theres a lot of value here—I didnt want to just rush something out.

eWeek: Much attention has been focused on your HailStorm and Passport authentication efforts, with several attorneys general involved in the antitrust case saying this technology in particular worries them. What role does HailStorm play in XP, and what are your plans for it going forward?

Allchin: If you dont want to use Passport in XP, you dont have to. I dont think people get that. With that being said, I think were showing leadership in the importance of authentication on the Internet and the great things you can do if you do get a central authentication aspect. There are pieces of the system that if you want to use them, youre going to have a Passport on it, like Hotmail. Remember, Passport is an opt-in. Customers get to decide if they use it, and the information provided to Passport is decided by the user. You dont have to give any personal detail other than an e-mail address or credit card details if you dont want to. It is not something sinister but rather exactly the opposite; its something wonderful. The core 12 Web services being defined under HailStorm need to be separated from Windows XP, which has a bunch of functionality on the client and the ability to plug in Web services from anybody. The two meta-Internet services that it uses are Passport and Rendezvous, so it can do things like real-time communications with somebody. If you use Windows Messenger, you will use Passport and the Rendezvous in Windows XP. I personally see Passport and the Rendezvous service as nice facilities that people can use if they want to as the central point in the sky.

eWeek: The inclusion of Windows Messenger in XP has also raised some eyebrows and resulted in criticisms that Microsoft is restricting competition by bundling all these technologies into the operating system. Do you have any plan to change the way youve included Windows Messenger in XP?

Allchin: Absolutely not! People love it. Its a platform that can be built on top of. Again, users do not have to use it if they do not like it. They can load any third-party software with no problem at all. If anything, were fighting for user choice and pushing hard for that. We shouldnt necessarily have to remove things; we want to give people a choice about whether to use it or not.

eWeek: One of the most common criticisms of Microsoft is that the third-party software either just doesnt work or fails to work as well as that included by Microsoft. How aggressively are you working with those third- party vendors to make sure this doesnt happen?

Allchin: We have probably spent more time with AOL [Time Warner Inc.] than any other vendor to ensure theres a good experience here. As a platform guy, it is critical for us that users have a good experience on those applications. Windows is a platform, we need those applications, and I would be pretty dumb if I didnt try and make them work as well as possible. We have 150 people dedicated to app compatibility and working with vendors. But there is a caveat that Ive been ratcheting up from operating system to operating system: Quality is a more important factor than compatibility.

eWeek: When Microsoft announced that it was giving PC makers leeway with regard to the placement of icons on the desktop, you failed to mention that if they did this, they would have to include Microsoft icons. What is your strategy in this regard?

Allchin: I am a hard-core believer that the clean desktop is the way to go. Given the appeals court ruling, a decision was made at a senior level that we should go back and give freedom on the desktop. Weve done that. At the same time, we told OEMs that if they were going to put a bunch of icons on the desktop, then so were we. This is not just an MSN [The Microsoft Network] thing, its a set of icons that will go on the desktop. Im not sure exactly whats in that list, but its probably very similar to what was there before. [Icons like My Computer, My Documents and Internet Explorer have been included previously.]