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Interview with Jim Allchin, Group Vice President: Microsoft Corporation

As group vice president of Microsoft Corp.’s Platforms Group, James (Jim) Allchin has overall responsibility for the product delivery, engineering and technical architecture for the Microsoft® Windows® operating system, Microsoft .NET, the Windows Server System and new media technology. He is also responsible for delivering the best developer tools, framework and support to fulfill the promise of .NET. His group’s mission is to build platforms software that consumers and businesses will make an integral part of their day-to-day activities. How is Longhorn’s development progressing?

Jim Allchin: We recently announced that we’re going to accelerate the delivery of Longhorn by removing dependences on things like the new file system and that we’re going to broaden our delivery of WinFX to other versions of Windows.  The overall vision for Longhorn remains much the same Security at Microsoft has become a priority at Microsoft in recent times. What are Microsoft’s long-term plans in making Windows more secure?

Jim Allchin: Actually, security has been a major priority of ours for some time.  We stopped all work in December 2001 to re-vamp our engineering process.  We retrained everyone.  We implemented tools from our research team.  We added threat modeling and new compiler flags.  For Windows Server 2003, we set strict deployment defaults to reduce the attack surface area. 

Most recently, we shipped Windows XP Service Pack 2.  We did a lot of work, but as long as software is written by human beings, it will never be perfect.  It became obvious to me that we couldn’t continue our method of patching the system one update at a time, because the hackers have been relentless – as soon as we’d issue a fix they’d dis-assemble it, build an attack based on the flaw we were correcting, and unleash it on un-patched machines.  So with Windows XP SP 2, we approached the problem from a new angle.  Do more than fix the code - don’t let the hackers get into the system in the first place.  We do a much better job of shielding the system from attacks, even in the face of un-patched vulnerabilities (see for more information on Windows XP SP2). 

In the long-term, we’re going to keep doing everything we’re already doing around engineering excellence, customer education, and helping people keep their PCs up-to-date.  We’re also hard at work with our partners on developing advanced ways to protect systems through a combination of hardware and software.  We’re working on the ability to block malicious code from executing on 32-bit machines, not just by virus signature, but based on its behavior; putting machines connecting to the network in quarantine until they pass security tests; plus technology to combat Spam, including a “caller ID” to flag e-mail spoofs. With Longhorn still several years off, what are your plans for Windows XP?

Jim Allchin: The plan is to ship Longhorn in 2006; even though we’ve been working on Longhorn, we’ve never stopped working on Windows XP.  Think about it this way: Windows is a long-term vision whose milestones coincide with product releases.  Before we ship Longhorn, we’re releasing a series of updates to Windows XP.  The first update you saw is Service Pack 2, which aside from safety improvements includes updates to the Tablet PC like improved handwriting recognition.  This August in Bangkok, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur we announced Windows XP Starter Edition.  This is a new product – the result of an initiative to broaden the accessibility of Windows to growing economies by making it simpler and more affordable.  This fall you’ll see updates for the Media Center and Windows Media Player, plus some new devices like the Portable Media Center and Media Center extenders.  With these releases we’re really doing two things: strengthening system fundamentals and adding fit and finish to user scenarios around digital experiences like photos, music, videos, and recorded television.  We’re making sure the scenarios are complete, from when you collect digital content to when you organize it, add your personal touches, take it with you, and share it with other people. Windows XP is a great operating system – in fact we haven’t really done the best job we could of helping people understand everything Windows XP can help them do, and I want to fix that. Are there any plans for a consumer 64-bit version of Longhorn?

Jim Allchin: We plan on shipping a 64-bit consumer version of Windows XP early next year.  And yes, all future releases of the Operating System will have a 64-bit consumer edition as well. What do you feel is your biggest achievement at Microsoft thus far?

Jim Allchin: I haven’t gotten there yet so you’ll have to ask me again later.  There’s so much more we can do with Windows and the PC.  As I keep saying, we’re really just getting stated.  I’m proud of Windows XP.  The basic infrastructure and the basic functionality is there, but we’re not where I want to be yet in terms of quality, ease of deployment and management, and the type of immersive experiences I want our software to deliver.  I have a very high bar, and with each release we do, it just gets higher. How do you feel about the recent developments in the open source community? Do you still feel open source as a threat?

Jim Allchin:  Customers need to judge non-commercial software and Linux based on the merits of what they provide.  This is true in terms of technology, compatibility, and the safety of your investment (whether the product you buy indemnified from patent-infringement lawsuits).  Non-commercial software is a competitor to all commercial software.  So yes, I view it as a competitive challenge. What is the best part about daily life at Microsoft?

Jim Allchin: I’m a geek just like you.  I love being surprised by incredible technology - some of the stuff we’re working on is just amazing, such as the “Instant-on” PC prototype I demoed at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference this year.  I get very excited by demos I see coming out of our research group.  I love cool hardware.  Like I said, I’m fundamentally a geek. How do you feel Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) contribute to product development and Microsoft communities worldwide?

Jim Allchin: The MVPs are Microsoft customers and they talk to other Microsoft customers day in and day out.  They’re the experts.  They’re passionate about technology and they dive in deep.  They give our customers invaluable support based on that expertise, and they give us honest feedback, which is also invaluable.  They make the customer experience better, and they make our products better.  I want to do more with them, because they’re a great bunch of people.  What do you feel the implications are of the source code leaks of Windows 2000 and Windows NT?

Jim Allchin:  There are no implications for Windows users because nothing of major importance leaked.  We know this wasn’t the result of any breach of Microsoft’s corporate network or internal security, nor did it come from any of our Shared Source partners. It was an isolated incident and we worked with the authorities to track down who was responsible.

(The official Microsoft statement regarding the illegal posting of the code can be found here:  Your thesis at Georgia Tech described in some part the architecture of an operating system called “Clouds.” How much of the original vision for “Clouds” has come true? What else, if anything, still needs to be realized?

Jim Allchin:  My thesis was about Distributed Systems – that’s my life.  Keeping autonomous machines working on concert has come a long way, but we are still at the beginning.  Clouds took one step toward this by using transactions and creative algorithms for machine synchronization and resilience.  How do you feel Windows Server has progressed from NT to 2003? What changes do you feel were fundamental to its growth? What do you foresee is needed to maintain this growth in the future?

Jim Allchin:  Our initial strategy was to deliver the “Best of Both” – that is, a file server and an application server.  We didn’t give up anything.  Then we focused on delivering “a lot for the money,” so we put a lot of functionality into the server, assuring that it could serve many roles.  Next we worked on simplification, that is, once your IT department or small business has deployed the server, it simplifies other parts of your operations.  One of the things I like most about our current server, Windows Server 2003, is that you can designate a role for the server when you deploy it – application server, Active Directory server, file/print server, and so on.  Based on the role selected, the software automatically sets a default configuration.  Data Centers are getting larger and more complex – managing them has to get simpler.  Automation is the only way to do this.  It’s the underlying theme for our Dynamic Systems Initiative.  Under this model, when developers create an application, they build into the code itself all the information needed to deploy and manage it.  The system just extracts this and acts on it so that the IT Pro doesn’t have to script each and every minute operation.  The system monitors the user experience and makes adjustments as necessary – for example, if a website gets overloaded, the system can automatically deploy a Perfect Replica Watches to share the load.  This is exciting stuff.  It will make things so much easier for IT departments.  Your passion for what you do is apparent.  What keeps you motivated?

Jim Allchin:  I believe our industry is ready to take The Next Big Step, which is taking the PC from being “just a tool” to being an integral part of people’s daily lives.  People should see the PC as a way to create great experiences, as a pathway to great experiences, and as a great experience in and of itself.  The PC should be something that literally makes peoples’ passions come alive.  Those of us who make software, hardware, and services have to make sure the fundamentals are right, the end-to-end scenarios are complete, and that the PC accommodates the person rather than the other way around.  If just we keep building the next lower-cost tool, we’re going to go nowhere.  If instead we build great experiences that people want but can’t get any other way, then our industry has an incredibly bright future.  I want to make that future happen, and that’s what keeps me motivated.

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Additional Information:

As group vice president of Microsoft Corp.’s Platforms Group, James (Jim) Allchin has overall responsibility for the product delivery, engineering and technical architecture for the Microsoft® Windows® operating system, Microsoft .NET, the Windows Server System and new media technology. He is also responsible for delivering the best developer tools, framework and support to fulfill the promise of .NET. His group’s mission is to build platforms software that consumers and businesses will make an integral part of their day-to-day activities.

Allchin is a member of the Senior Leadership Team, responsible for developing Microsoft’s core direction along with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. He is also a member of the Business Leadership Team, which is responsible for broad strategic and business planning for the entire company.

Allchin joined Microsoft in 1990 with the initial charter of driving the company’s networking product strategy. Since then he has led the development and marketing efforts for a variety of Microsoft’s operating systems and other server systems.

Before joining Microsoft, Allchin helped start Banyan Systems Inc., where he was the principal architect of the VINES distributed network operating system. He spent more than seven years at Banyan, holding numerous executive management positions in development and marketing. Ultimately, he became senior vice president and chief technology officer.

While completing his doctorate in computer science in the early 1980s, Allchin was the principal architect of the Clouds distributed transactional, object-oriented operating system. Before that, he helped develop the DX series of operating systems for Texas Instruments Inc.

Allchin has attended the University of Florida, Stanford University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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