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MS moves into ‘get Longhorn on the road’ mode

That time of the dev cycle again, people

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If Windows didn't exist, Microsoft would be a far poorer and more obscure company - if, that is, it still existed at all, because most of its contemporaries from the 70s don't. So, what is wrong with this sentence: '[Microsoft has formed a new division, the Windows Core Operating System division, to focus closely on Windows OS technologies and to drive Longhorn development.'?

Yes, you're quite right. The correct answer is, 'Er, shouldn't it have one of these already?'

Indeed it should, and indeed in some senses it did have, but the reasons why Microsoft feels the need to conduct a reorganisation now speak volumes about the way the company develops software. Although Windows is key, from a revenue and business development point of view leveraging market share in other areas is more important for the company and its bean counters. Some years ago when Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were inventing the .NET vision Ballmer said that Microsoft intended to make the leap from a product company to a services one, and while subsequently this flip has not exactly been visibly successful, it's been an imperative that has had a major effect on overall development.

Microsoft in general has a need for all sorts of miscellaneous stuff to be part of the grand vision of the Windows Platform (whatever we might be choosing to call it today), so the Windows Platform becomes an ever-shifting, ever-expanding pile of stuff, and it becomes ever more impossible to build and ship new revs.

(It occurs to us that the previous sentence could perhaps be worked up into a viable definition of .NET for dummies, but we'll skip that for now)

Some of the most interesting exchanges of email that were subpoenaed during the antitrust trial had on the one hand Bill Gates' vision of convergent operating systems (remember, there were two mainstream lines until fairly recently) and integration, and on the other Brad Silverberg complaining (pissy emails from billg) and Jim Allchin as the struggling ringmaster striving in the face of adversity to get the darn product finished. So at the time of Win98 development you had a tension between commercial imperatives (as seen from Redmond, of course) and technical ones, and we'd hazard a guess that not much has changed in the interim.

Now, the Windows Core Operating System division is being headed up by Brian Valentine, a veteran of Microsoft OS development and known as a tough, no-nonsense customer who gets stuff done. Bob Muglia takes charge of server, while Will Poole remains at Windows client, with Valentine, Poole and Muglia going on the newly-formed Windows Leadership Team. This will likely be similar in operation to the Business Leadership Team, which now has so many members it's probably functionally useless, but these things tend to start out well, and there's a new Windows Engineering Leadership Team too.

So what's happening, we think, is that Microsoft has now reached that stage in Longhorn development where it looks at what it's got, looks at the target dates and decides it needs to call in the usual gunslingers in order to get the thing done. Valentine was of course doing it already prior to the latest announcement, but you could maybe read a certain amount of empowerment into the move - the closer the deadline gets, then the better chance the development pros have of calling the shots.

Having to do this kind of thing every timer it needs to ship a new OS is nevertheless a peculiar way to run a company that should really be focusing on the core competence (we use the term advisedly) all the time, but that's how it is. Continual reinvention, or a chronic inability to learn from experience? Call it whichever way you like. ®

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Mary-Jo Foley reads the reorg runes

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