I had a chance to chat with Jim Allchin, Group Vice
President of the Platforms Group at Microsoft, about
the week that the product was released to
manufacturing. In development for eighteen months,
Windows XP finally moves Microsoft's consumer operating
system into the NT/2000 code base while offering a slew
of experience-based improvements, a new user interface,
and other additions to the Windows 2000 product that's
been embraced by the enterprise. But Windows XP has been
dogged by competitors, special interest groups and even
the US government in recent months, making the time
leading up to its release one of the more trying in
Microsoft's history. I wanted to step back from the
controversy and focus on Windows XP--the product--and
the benefits it brings to people, both at home and in
Here's what Mr. Allchin had to say about Windows XP.
Paul Thurrott (PT):
Before we get started, could
you provide a quick overview of what you do at
Microsoft? What's Jim Allchin's job like?
Jim Allchin (JA):
(Laughs) Well, I run the
Platforms Group at Microsoft. All of the things you
think have historically thought of as an OS fall into
this category. This includes the tools like Visual
Studio, content like microsoft.com, digital media, as
well as the .NET Enterprise Servers. And Windows, of
course. Anything that's platform related is in my
You've always been the "server guy" at
Microsoft. Has Windows XP and its focus on the desktop
changed anything for you?
I certainly have spent a lot of time in the
enterprise space! But even with Windows 2000, we made a
lot of progress on the client. I'm quite proud of the
work we did on Windows 2000 Professional. But over time?
I took a sabbatical last year, and it became clear how
far we needed to go. I was frustrated to see that people
doubted whether the PC quality was there, because most
people are still using Windows 9x. Last summer, we took
a vacation on a boat in the Mediterranean. Everyone had
PCs, and I brought along my little Sony laptop running
Windows 2000. But everyone else had some version of
Windows 98 and they all had different problems. I was
stunned at how productive people could be with PCs: They
were editing photos and videos, communicating over cell
phones through the IR port, to talk to friends, playing
music. But they were also frustrated because Windows
would crash. Things weren?t simple or obvious. Before I
had left for my sabbatical, I had laid out all the
things that needed to be done to my team. But I came
back with a vengeance. I wanted to see how far we could
push to make this next version better than ever before.
So, I have a deep love for the consumer now despite my
What are your proudest accomplishments with
Windows XP? Is there anything you wish you could have
done better with this version?
First, I really think we did a good job on
scenario thinking, we thought through all these
scenarios end to end. We tried to obvious? OK? if you're
going to do this task, what do you need to do? We're not
finished here yet, of course. But we've made huge gains
with XP. You plug in camera, and it just works. We made
it simpler than ever to get those images, organize them,
edit them, and publish them. Previously, you had to know
to use the right mouse to get a lot done in Windows, but
most people don't know how to use it. The changes in the
user interface, with the Web view on the left, helps
people through the tasks they're doing. It's a task
oriented approach that we thought through. There are
many examples, but here's one that's not obvious:
Someone buys a new machine. What do they do? They need
to get stuff from their old machine to the new machine.
We've been working for years to separate the code from
the data. But we never made the OS able to transfer that
data to a new PC. In Windows XP, the Files and Settings
Transfer Wizard makes this easy.
Beyond the scenarios, I'm also proud of our relentless
pursuit of quality in this release. Think of it in
context: An infinite number of permutations need to be
tested. I'm very proud that we've been able to raise the
quality in the PC ecosystem, by working closely with PC
vendors, HSVs, and ISVs. I feel very, very good about
that. I want people to be happy with their experience.
As far as the next release, there's really nothing to
single out... There's always another opportunity.
Many people question whether Windows XP is a
decent upgrade for business users, or those that have
already moved to Windows 2000. What makes Windows XP
desirable to the enterprise?
Many things. We know, quantitatively, that XP
offers higher reliability than Windows 2000. We know
it's better in terms of security. But there are features
in Windows XP that really make a difference too. With
Remote Assistance, business users can have a less
hostile help desk. For collaboration, Windows messenger
is a cool tool for quickly exchanging video conferences
or audio calls within the company. Remote desktop lets
users go mobile and connect in to their work desktop.
Microsoft's developers no longer have to keep a copy of
their code at home. Now, they use remote desktop to
connect to their work PC. Mobile users will see huge
benefits from Windows XP. There's better laptop support.
The wireless support is phenomenal: Take a laptop and
move it between different places and it works without
needing to be configured. Windows XP offers more
reliability, but it's really resilience. If someone
installs a bad driver or the system configuration dies
for some reason, there is a checkpoint for rolling back
the system. This will save support calls. Honestly,
there are quite a few features and capabilities in this
release that make it perfect for business users.
How does Windows XP fit in with .NET? It
seems that some of the most exciting Windows XP services
will be added after the product is finalized, through
Windows Messenger and MSN Alerts. What are some of
Microsoft's plans for extending Windows XP into the .NET
There are multiple dimensions to that, and
some of these are things we haven't talked about yet,
but we will soon. Windows XP is a platform for XML
processing, first of all, so that's in the system. It's
in there. You can integrate with Passport credentials if
you want, and store your personal information in a
single place. If it's not obvious, we view Windows
Messenger as a platform. Soon, what we mean about that
will become visible in XP. We'll be doing that shortly.
(Laughs) Who knows about the future? We're trying to
make XP a good client and platform for .NET.
With its move to the NT/2000 code base,
Windows XP is obviously more stable and secure than
Windows 9x/Me. But why will my parents--or any other
non-technical, average users--want to upgrade to Windows
(Laughs) Why wouldn't they want to?
(Laughs) Right. Actually, I can't wait to
upgrade my parents to this release.
I'll be buying my mother in a law an XP
machine immediately. My mom wanted to buy a digital
camera last year and I wouldn't let her because I knew
what the experience would be like. She wouldn?t know
where the pictures were, wouldn't be able to share them
with us, it goes on and on. Well guess what? Today, my
mom has a digital camera with Windows XP and she loves
it. She can print pictures, all by herself. The bottom
line is that I think we've done a pretty good job
enabling great experiences. It's simpler to use, and
that's important for anyone that's supported PCs for
family and friends. People will know its more reliable.
I watch the feedback, and generally people love this
product. So I'm very proud of this because it will
improve people's lives. My wife can see me here at work
using Windows Messenger. And my mom and mother in law
can see our son; my mom is in Boston. The technology was
there before, but it wasn't easy to use. Now it is. I'm
incredibly excited about the benefits to the average
Do you see Windows XP inspiring new types of
hardware? What types of PCs and hardware will we see
that really takes advantage of the unique features in
There will be some more multimedia oriented
PCs created, and more mobile devices. In terms of
peripherals, there will are many examples. Array
microphones for super quality voice conversations. More
Web cams will be sold for video conferencing. More high
speed buses--like USB 2.0 and IEEE-1394--for moving more
bits more quickly, because people are going to want to
edit video. Obviously, the Tablet PC runs Windows XP, in
a new form factor with a new high resolution digitizer
input. It's going to transform the way knowledge workers
use the PC. At its core, even the Xbox is a Windows XP
system. People are going to want burnable DVD drives, so
they can take home movies and burn them onto DVD to
share them with their family. That's going to be become
Microsoft would like a Windows XP-based PC to
sit at the hub of a connected home. Why is this
advantageous over other alternatives, such as
residential gateways or set-top boxes?
The PC is the natural hub, because it has the
power and the flexibility. Consider the general purpose
approach of the PC. We can do the most innovation on the
PC, because you're not locked into a device you have to
throw away because you can't upgrade it. In any area
where there's innovation, it's going to require a
general purpose machine. The PC can do editing. Video.
Pictures. Processing... It's not just a display oriented
device. The PC is the classic winner here because it
offers the best bang for the buck and it's still simple.
That's why we believe the PC will be the hub. It can
talk to other devices. It has a single connection out to
the Internet. It's just a natural situation: One PC,
lots of connected devices. How else are those devices
going to connect?
Any final thoughts on Windows XP?
I'm the ultimate dreamer and perfectionist,
but compared to what's out there, Windows XP a huge step
ahead. I put my heart into this one, and so did the
whole team here. We had a Real People, Real Beta
program, where we set up regular people with Windows XP.
We watched video tapes of those people using their
machines and it was just humbling. We knew what was
wrong, of course, we support our relatives. But this
release will prove that we're really listening.