Microsoft Shuffles Deck

Microsoft combines the development of its core operating system technologies under a new division.

Microsoft Corp.s realignment of its platforms group last week is the latest example of the lengths to which the company will go to get ready for the future. The Redmond, Wash., company, looking to optimize and improve its core Windows business, created the Windows Core Operating System Division. Windows COSD is a centralized engineering unit that will be responsible for all the companys core operating system technologies. The group will be headed by Brian Valentine, current senior vice president for Windows.

Microsoft customers contacted last week welcomed the move as strategic and as a way to improve the quality of code. They also viewed it as a way for the company to better position itself against Linux and other open-source software.

Late last week, Linus Torvalds released the source code of Linux kernel Version 2.6 to the Linux Kernel Archive. Products built around the kernel will start appearing toward the middle of next year.

"Linux has them a bit scared, as every day, it seems, brings news of a new flaw in Windows," said Jack Beckman, an application programming manager in Southfield, Mich., adding that there are still many mission-critical tasks for which Windows is not ready.

But Jim Allchin, group vice president for platforms at Microsoft, in an interview with eWEEK, said the reorganization was not a reaction to the growth of Linux and open source, nor an admission of flaws in Microsofts code or engineering. Rather, Allchin said, it was intended to ensure that quality was "even better" going forward.

"If anything, the move is a reaffirmation of our belief in a core centralized development model for software," Allchin said. "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."

"If it isnt broke, why change it?" countered David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass. "The Linux open-source model is pretty impressive when you think about it—what they can build with the fraction of the resources that Microsoft has."

Others see Linux as a tool to keep Microsoft on its toes. Jim Lambright, an IT manager with Roth Manufacturing Corp., in New London, Ohio, said he believes that if Microsoft cannot produce a stable, secure product in a price range that justifies the total cost of ownership, Windows will continue to lose market share.

"Linux just may be the monopoly buster we had hoped for," Lambright said. "Even if Linux never gains a large chunk of the market, they will always be knocking on Microsofts back door. This alone will cause Microsoft to rethink what it does and what it produces. It will keep them on their toes."

Analyst Al Gillen, of International Data Corp., based in Framingham, Mass., said he views the move as only an annual reorganization rather than a competitive repositioning. Microsoft officials have not been reluctant in the past to shake up the company, Gillen said.

"The move is also partly a result of the truly merged Windows client and server code bases on which its products are now being built," Gillen said. "So what they are doing looks like a move toward operational efficiencies and removing any redundant co-development they may have had."

Asked about the possibility of an interim Windows client or server release before Longhorn ships—planned for late 2005 or early 2006—Allchin said that on the server side, Microsoft would be shipping several add-ons and that there is "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, Microsoft will refresh throughout the coming year the Longhorn bits it released at the Professional Developers Conference in October.

"That aspect of the plan hasnt changed at all," Allchin said. "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."

Some users, such as John Persinger, an internal network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va., hope there wont be another operating system upgrade before Longhorn.

"It doesnt make business sense or common sense to have a transitioning product," Persinger said. "Microsoft sees two kinds of people in the world right now: those who have bought XP and those who havent—and another product would alienate them both."