Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building. Jim Allchin, the senior vice president most directly responsible for the glacial development time of Windows 2000, has announced a curiously timed "vacation," which Microsoft watchers generally believe to be a thinly veiled ouster. And while the company maintains that the executive is simply taking some much-deserved rest after launching Windows 2000, it's hard to escape the fact that this vacation is beginning just a week before the company announces its strategy for its Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS). It seems somewhat odd that Microsoft's lead product strategist wouldn't be involved with the single biggest strategy announcement that the company is preparing this year. But then Allchin's ouster might have been in the cards for quite some time, as the signs were there for all to see.
Last month, Microsoft announced yet another internal reorganization, one that would focus the company on NGWS. In a curious move noted in WinInfo, Microsoft melded its Windows and development tools divisions together into a single unit to be co-led by vice presidents Paul Maritz and Jim Allchin, an odd pairing of independent executives that could hardly be expected to share leadership at this point in their careers. And as I noted last month, while wondering whether both would "see out the year," the men are as incongruous as their once separate divisions: Maritz is an ultra-intelligent can-do guy who harbors little affection for fools. Allchin, meanwhile, oversaw development of Windows 2000, a product that took over three years to come to market, causing numerous strategy shifts as the goals for the OS changed again and again to meet customer requirements.
But Allchin's problems at Microsoft go back much further than that. After the release of Windows 95, the most successful product launch of any kind, executive Brad Silverberg was riding high. As the person in charge of 95, Silverberg then moved to next-generation strategy, offering up a plan that would meld Windows to the Internet and position the OS for the future. More importantly, he wanted Internet Explorer to be developed separately from Windows so that it could have a clear release strategy and be developed simultaneously for other platforms. He fought against Allchin's plans to integrate Internet Explorer in Windows, but lost in a stunning way: Under Allchin's direction, Windows 98 was delayed so that IE could be more closely integrated into the OS. Silverberg, faced with an executive board that had stopped listening, was sure that Microsoft was making a huge mistake. So he left the company on sabbatical, as so many other Microsoft executives have done.
Allchin's next move was to consolidate Consumer Windows under his control, moving the once-separate development team into his enterprise unit, which was developing Windows 2000. So he assigned Moshie Dunie to oversee Windows 2000, which later had huge ramifications, as the product slid further and further away from release. Dunie was himself forced to resign in December 1998, the date at which Windows 2000 was to have originally shipped. But Allchin's plans for the Consumer Windows team were simple: He wanted to end 9x development and focus on a consumer version of Windows 2000. There was just one problem: Because of the massive delays in getting Windows 2000 up to speed with its planned feature-set, there was no way the company could ever release a consumer version in a timely fashion. So in March 1999, the company finally reversed the previous reorganization and spun off the Consumer Windows team so that it might begin work on Windows Millennium Edition, a final 9x release that could be completed under the tight schedule required by Microsoft's annual revenue model. Allchin was basically removed from the Consumer Windows picture completely under this reorg and, less than a week later, the company publicly announced that it was working on a new version of Windows 9x.
Allchin also ran into trouble during the Microsoft trial, and he was responsible for one of the company's most embarrassing moments, when a video tape that Allchin's team prepared for the judge was shown to have been doctored. Allchin was attempting to show that the removal of IE from Windows was technically impossible and would harm the performance of the system. But the video was shown by the government team to have been edited in a gruesome frame-by-frame demonstration that showed a program's title bar to change names between frames. Judge Jackson blasted Microsoft for destroying Microsoft's credibility. It was, arguably, the turning point in the trial. This is very troubling," Jacskon said. "I'd feel much better about it if you had made the test yourself." Allchin replied that he did make the test. "Yeah, but that is not what I am seeing here," Jackson retorted.
Allchin's vacation may be just that, a vacation. But if the past is any indication, it's likely that we've seen the last of this particular Microsoft executive