Microsoft Pushes 'Watson' for ISV Apps

Software developers are in the crosshairs of Microsoft’s “Watson” initiative, now that the company is claiming success with the automated customer feedback program in improving the quality of its own software and third-party hardware drivers.

Watson is the initiative behind the pop-up windows that appear and offer to send an error report to Microsoft every time an application crashes on Windows XP. Microsoft claims the initiative has allowed it to focus its attention on fixing the bugs in its own software that cause the highest percentage of systems crashes.

“Today we’ve got a lot of activity from the driver manufacturers, but we want to see even more at the application level so it gets us working together on anything where a user is not having a great experience,” Bill Gates told a captive audience of software developers this week at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. The call to take advantage of Watson echoes similar advice that Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect, gave hardware driver developers earlier this year at WinHEC.

Gates offered software developers a carrot and a stick to get them to sign up at for the reports that relate to their application. The carrot is the ability to maximize developers’ time in supporting the product after its release and improving end users’ experience. “One thing that’s been amazing at Microsoft is the impact that our monitoring data has had on how we prioritize our software work,” Gates said. “We get a lot of those reports, and we’ve created very good data-management systems to go in and look at those things and therefore understand what drivers aren’t reliable.”

The stick is that even if the ISVs don’t pay attention to the reports, Microsoft will be paying attention if the applications is seen to be degrading users’ impression of Windows. Gates offered an example of the success of Watson with driver quality that also served as a veiled threat. “We have really changed our relationship with the video-driver people. As we noticed that some were quite unreliable compared to others, we’ve talked with the manufacturers who buy those video drivers and hardware. [We] said, ‘Look, we’ve got to work together to drive several orders of magnitude additional quality into this part of the system.’ So between Microsoft, the manufacturers, the video companies, that happened,” Gates said.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.