Tell us about yourself – what was your job at Microsoft?
I was at
Microsoft for about 7 ½ years. Though I worked in several different roles,
the one I did the longest, and enjoyed the most, was as a Program Manager
in the Windows Setup (often called the Windows deployment) team. Prior to
that I worked at Slate (http://Slate.msn.com),
Sidewalk (bonus points for your readers who remember Sidewalk), and then
prior to that, in my first role at Microsoft, I did web development for a
group that provided technical training within Microsoft.
How long were you in the setup Program Manager role? What exactly does a
Program Manager do at Microsoft?
I was in that role
for close to four years. Though the role differs somewhat depending on
what group you’re talking with, I always viewed it as a position that
works as a connection between test and development, an overall owner of a
feature/technology area, and often the voice of that technology/feature
area within and outside of Microsoft. Oh, and answer email. Lots and lots
features or technologies did you work on most?
were two technologies I was the PM for – RIS (Remote Installation
Services) and Windows PE (usually referred to using just the name “WinPE”.
Since I started after development had started on Whistler – what has come
to be known as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 – RIS had already
shipped once (in Windows 2000) so I spent most of my time working on WinPE
and defining what we were going to deliver for RIS in Windows Server 2003.
For those unfamiliar with it, what exactly is WinPE? Why was it created?
What is it used for?
basically a specialized subset of Windows that can be booted from CD, from
the hard disk of a system, or via RIS itself, if a system supports PXE (Preboot
eXecution Environment). When it boots it loads a minimal set of the Win32
API, and uses the command prompt (cmd.exe) as its shell. Meaning when you
boot it, it looks a whole lot like Windows XP Safe Mode with Command
Prompt. WinPE was created to ease deployment of Windows across every
platform that Whistler was targeted for (which at the time was just the
X86 architecture and the Intel IA64 (Itanium) architecture, but has
expanded to include the X64 architecture). The primary booting goal that I
recall was to get it CD-booted. Though it was originally intended for
deployment – it became viewed as a tool for deployment, recovery, and
diagnostics, among other things.
How did WinPE progress from Windows XP to Windows 2003?
Every release of
what was once referred to as “Windows Whistler” has brought some changes
to WinPE. The release of XP brought WinPE in its first form. Then Windows
XP Service Pack 1 brought two key changes 1: an easier way to boot from a
system’s hard disk (the earlier way was even more convoluted and required
the use of the Recovery Console to get WinPE booted and 2: the ability to
connect to standalone DFS (Distributed File Share) roots. Windows Server
2003’s release brought one key feature, the ability to build Windows PE
itself from Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition.
What about with Windows XP Service Pack 2, or the upcoming release of
Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1? Any changes there?
Absolutely. Service Pack 2 brought with it what was often referred to as
“Interim WinPE” – and some key highly requested functionality that we felt
needed to be delivered before Windows Codename Longhorn shipped in order
to help ease Windows deployment. The key changes are:
to include the Windows Firewall (for the most secure deployment)
to include WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation)
A more predictable
drive letter assignment (it’s now always X)
The ability to add
additional drivers/devices than network and mass storage, so that
hardware can be tested at deployment time if need be.
Windows XP Service
Pack 2 brings those changes. Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 will
have those, and a few new features as well…
What are the new WinPE-specific features for SP1 of Windows Server 2003?
three key features:
The last feature is
I think something people may not realize the benefits of immediately, but
once they understand it, will become invaluable. It will allow WinPE to
boot from almost any PXE server (today RIS is the only supported PXE
server for net-booting WinPE, support for booting from CD and then
removing the boot media from the drive, and even booting WinPE from a hard
disk and then repartitioning/reformatting the drive it just booted from.
How did WinPE come to be? Did development start with Windows 2000?
WinPE came about
largely because of the ongoing complexity for Microsoft customers using
DOS for deployment of X86 systems, and the reality that there was no
viable pre-deployment environment for Windows on the Intel Itanium
after Windows 2000 had shipped and the team began working on what would
come to be called Whistler.
WinPE changed in Longhorn?
Too early to really
go into details (the team is still very heads down on the Windows Server
SP1 version of WinPE), but I’m sure there will be some changes to WinPE.
Do you have any
hilarious or outlandish stories from your time at Microsoft that you can
I remember the day
Windows XP shipped – one of the developers down the hall from me had an
intern who had returned to school just the day before. Before leaving, the
intern left a surprise in this developer’s office. He had apparently been
saving juice cans all summer, and created a lovely can mosaic in the
window, spelling out XP in the window. It was especially creative in that
if you looked up into the window from the outside, you could see XP as
well, since he had carefully spun the labels to spell it from that
direction as well. If you look carefully at this picture you can see the
perspective from both sides.
Did your group often work with Microsoft Support for customer related
issues? If yes, how does customer feedback improve the product?
It depends on the
PM, and the group. For me I definitely tried my hardest to listen to PSS,
hear the issues customers were having with the setup technologies I owned,
and see if/how/when we could best address them. I think that Microsoft
support provides an invaluable conduit of feedback from real-world
consumers. Some of it’s not the feedback that you always like to hear
but that makes it all the more important to listen.
What are your experiences from working with
Microsoft Windows Server MVPs in your role at Microsoft?
I enjoyed the opportunities I had to work with the
MVP community. Microsoft is lucky to have such a strong community of
technical advocates backing up it's products in the global community. Some
of my favorite memories were discussing upcoming product/feature direction
with MVP's and having them serve as a check and balance that we were
(hopefully) doing the right thing.
Where are you going from here?
I recently left
Microsoft for Winternals Software –
www.winternals.com. It’s a huge change for me in that the company is
much smaller – but I’m really excited to be at a company that’s taking
WinPE, adding their own technical insight into Windows and constantly
pushing the boundaries of what people expect software to do for them.
Please Comment On This Interview