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.
- By Scott Bekker
- May 01, 2006
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
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
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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Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.