Partner Advocate

An Engineer's Last Stand

Schedule slips are common and expected with software development projects; Windows Vista's can be blamed on a focus on quality.

First, a mea culpa. In this space last month, I said that few people seriously thought that Microsoft would postpone Windows Vista's release. Since then, Vista has been delayed until at least early 2007. Technically, what I said was true -- few did expect the Vista slip. But I was trying to convey the message that Microsoft's new operating system would be shipping this year no matter what. Wrong.

I guess having watched Microsoft for so long, I should have known a delay was pretty likely. I feel slightly better knowing that even Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund, the insider's Microsoft insider, sounded shocked at the delay when Microsoft's Jim Allchin revealed it during a conference call in March.

What I think we're seeing with the Vista delay is an engineer's last stand. Allchin, co-president of the Microsoft Platform Products and Services division, has consistently emphasized quality across several successive Microsoft releases. He's always been the guy talking about reliability and availability in Windows.

He's been the one to cut the features that were too ambitious. It was Allchin who, according to The Wall Street Journal, walked into Bill Gates' office and told the chairman and chief software architect that Gates' beloved WinFS storage subsystem would have to come out of Longhorn in July 2004.

Over the years, Allchin has answered nearly every query about ship dates with variations on this response: "It will ship when the product is fully tested, and when our customers tell us it's good enough." By nearly all public accounts so far, the decision to delay Vista was based on ensuring code quality. Preview versions of Vista have been very stable. But the matrix of testing configurations is overwhelming -- among Microsoft OS editions, among PC hardware configurations and among home entertainment devices.
These are Allchin's last days at Microsoft. He had tied his own retirement to the delivery of Vista long before this delay cropped up.

This is a case of someone spending his personal capital inside the company to keep the focus on quality, not on making ship dates. Whatever you think about the decision from a business standpoint, it couldn't have been easy going to Gates, whose biographies are filled with tales of heroic, round-the-clock coding sessions and nights sleeping on the office couch. Can you imagine being the one to tell Bill Gates that Microsoft is going to miss a ship date six months away because the schedule is projected to slip by a few weeks in October?

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About the Author

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

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