Microsoft Engineering Division Debuts

Microsoft's Jim Allchin hails the role of a new, centralized engineering division.

Late last year, Microsoft Corp. announced a realignment of its Platforms Group, aimed at optimizing and improving its core Windows businesses. The reorganization creates the Windows Core Operating System Division, a centralized engineering unit under the leadership of Brian Valentine, formerly the senior vice president for Windows. The move is expected to be a critical step in the evolution of the Windows business and operating system as the company heads toward the release of "Longhorn." Jim Allchin, Microsofts group vice president of Platforms, in Redmond, Wash., talked to eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli about the reorganization and Longhorn in an exclusive interview.

Does this reorganization mean you are giving up some of your responsibilities and handing over some of the day-to-day operations?

It does not. There are two parts to this move. The first is that we are trying to create a center of gravity for advancing quality and engineering excellence across the platforms group. Secondly, were trying to give more agility to the business units, like the client and server, so that they can tailor and customize appropriately for the different market segments. Weve been experimenting with this concept with the Media Center and Tablet PC on the client side and on the server side with Small Business Server. The heart of this again is higher engineering quality to the core and then greater agility for the P&L [profit and loss] owners. In terms of my role, it may give me a little more time to spend on the engineering-quality part, which is where Ive already been spending a lot of time. This makes it very clear that we are trying to create a center of gravity and that we are stacking the groups with incredibly talented people.

Is this reorganization an admission that there has been an issue with code and engineering quality?

No, this is a move to ensure the quality is even better going forward.

You are moving several high-profile executives into completely new roles. What was the thought behind these moves?

These are people we are betting on for the future, and we are taking specific action to stretch them into new areas. Take Bob Muglia [senior vice president of the Enterprise Storage and Enterprise Management divisions], who now assumes responsibility for the server group. I am superexcited to have Bob running the server now. Theres a lot of cross-group things that make sense to share anyway. The storage work combined with the file server work is one example as well as the management infrastructure, so well have some more synergy there.

Why did you make the decision to reorganize the platform group now? Was Longhorn the major motivation for the move?

Well, even if there wasnt a Longhorn, Id still do this. But certainly, this is something I personally have been thinking about for a very long time. I started talking about this at least a year ago, where I was brainstorming ways to get a team that lived and breathed making our internal developers more productive, to ensure that every line of code was higher, to ensure that we had better test automation, that computers were doing the testing and not humans. Just higher reliability, better performance, improved security. All those basic fundamentals. Trying to balance all this with getting the P&Ls so they felt flexibility has been a tricky thing for me to figure out and was something that took a year to concoct and create this fabulous organization that Im very excited about.

Are you thinking about or planning more changes and shuffles?

That this is not an end-all or be-all move, its just another step, and Im sure well learn more as we proceed with this reorganization. This is a journey, not some destination. But theres nothing else Im actively thinking about at this point. I just want to make this happen.

Is this in any way a reaction to the competitive threat posed by Linux and open-source software?

No. If anything, it is a reaffirmation of our belief in a core centralized development model for software. Linux wasnt in any of the discussions here. We just want to build higher-quality software, and we want our teams to be able to customize this higher quality to satisfy customers in a rapid way.

Is there anything you can tell me about the possibility of an interim Windows server release between Server 2003 and Longhorn? Has any decision been made in this regard?

There are going to be several add-ons that were going to ship, and theres always discussion about whether we should piece those together. But, as we stand, there is nothing to announce. We are still planning on those intermediate drops that can be add-ons.

On the client side, there has been a lot of speculation about an interim release of some sort before Longhorn debuts. Is this a possibility?

We said wed have a Longhorn beta in 2004, and we also released bits at the PDC [Professional Developers Conference]. Well be refreshing those bits throughout the year. That aspect of the plan hasnt changed at all. Every day we get up and come to work and ask if we are doing the right thing for our customers. We will continue asking that question every day. But today I think we are doing the right thing for customers. I dont know what I might think tomorrow, so we are not changing our plans right now, but who knows what may happen tomorrow.

Are you still committed to ensuring that the Windows XP service packs do not contain new features?

No. Let me be clear on this. I think you can get yourself in a lot of trouble if you decide you want a definition of what a bug is. I dont want to make a claim that we never put an enhancement in a service pack; I think that would be a mistake. Let me explain. A clear example of that is in Windows XP SP [Service Pack] 2, where we will be improving security in a number of different ways. So, are we fixing a bug or adding a feature? I dont know, and Im not going to have the debate.

But in terms of the bigger picture, adding completely new features and functionality as in a feature set. Is that a possibility?

Well, generally, the gist is that were trying to not do that. We have updated the Media Center, and there is an update of the Tablet PC operating system coming, so that is an example of customized intermediate releases.

But there has been talk of a service-pack-type release with new functionality that Microsoft may charge for before Longhorn ships. Is that a possibility?

There are no service packs that we are on a path to charge for.