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Windows Live GM Speaks

Years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Microsoft’s Brian Hall, who is now the general manager of Windows Live and Internet Explorer. So I was interested to see (courtesy of Rafael Rivera) that he just spoke at the Cowen and Company Annual Technology Media & Telecom Conference in New York this week. Things have been pretty quiet on the Windows Live side of things lately, as you probably know, so I was hoping to discover more about Windows Live 5, which will presumably ship alongside Windows 8 next year. But I had forgotten how fricking awesome Brian is, and if you are interested in Microsoft or Windows more generally, you’re going to want to read the transcript of his speech (in Word .docx format) or listen to the audio version (curiously there’s no video). Getting to the audio transcript is a bit hard: Go to the Microsoft Investor web site and then scroll down to Events. It’s currently at the top.

So what does he say?

Here are a few choice tidbits.

On Microsoft’s previous and largely unsung leaps with Windows:

The thing that people forget about 1995, and when we released that product, people didn't have PCs in the home. About 10 percent of people had PCs in the home, but it wasn't perceived that a PC is something that you needed in your house at the time that Windows 95 came out. And so a bit question was, could we jump from being an enterprise desktop, business desktop thing, to making traction in the home? And as you watched the next five years, there was a lot of progress on that front.

The next big transition that people thought, wow, I don't know if they'll be able to do that was when we released Windows XP. And it was almost in some ways so seamless that the difficulty of what we accomplished wasn't recognized. Previous to Windows XP, we had two separate operating system stacks. We had the NT stack, which is what ran all of our corporate desktops ‑‑ NT 3.51, NT 4 ‑‑ it was also the same core operating system for our servers. And then we had the Windows 9X stack, Windows 95, Windows 98, and the like. And so Windows XP was the first time we went to one operating system for both the business and consumer side of the desktop that also had the same core guts as what we did on the server, which meant that we had to bring along a whole ecosystem.

All of the consumer devices, the plug-ins, the USB printers, USB scanners, game controllers, keyboards all had been done with Windows 9X drivers, and then all the applications had been written to the Windows 9X api set. And so that effort was really about how do we move an ecosystem, not only do the work that we needed to do to support consumer really well off of the NT code base, but also bring a whole ecosystem along so that we could be successful in the consumer market. It was a big change. It wasn't easy to work through. But, I think we did a pretty good job of that.

The last one that I want to highlight is, again, one where it got a little bit of fanfare, but I think it's worth calling out. Windows 7 was the first operating system we ever shipped that reduced the system requirements to run it. The first time we showed Windows 7, it was on a netbook. And if you remember at the time, netbooks couldn't run Windows Vista. They could run Windows XP, and so we had to have special licensing programs, and the like around netbooks, but they could not run Windows Vista, which was the more modern operating system. And so, with Windows 7 we released an operating system that all of a sudden ran on hardware that it's predecessor could not, which also had the wonderful side effect of increasing the overall performance across all PCs, whether they had been upgraded from Windows Vista or were just brand new PCs.

The new Windows 8 development platform. This one is very interesting. See how he categorizes the audience here:

Yesterday at the All Things D Conference, as well as at Computex in Taipei, we announced that Web developers will be able to use HTML 5 and JavaScript, the two tools that they use today most often to build modern Web apps, and in many cases modern mobile apps, they'll be able to use that same toolset to build Windows apps that have all the capabilities of the hardware there to support the running of those applications.

Did you catch it? He said “web developers” not “developers.” That could mean nothing. But it could mean that what they’ve shown so far is only part of the story and that Windows 8 will have truly native code advances for real developers as well.

On deeper integration between Windows 8 and the Windows Live online services:

Without pre-announcing anything that's coming in Windows 8, between Windows Live and Windows 8, we feel very good about being able to take all of the stuff that you do on the Web and just make it seamlessly available in whatever experience that you're in.

On SkyDrive integration with Windows Phone “Mango”:

An example there is we've shown this already. The next version--today on the Windows Phone, the one time that I first used OneNote it asked me, do you want to save these files to SkyDrive? But, I never see SkyDrive again after that. Whereas, in the next release I will have a SkyDrive app, effectively on my phone, that allows me to see all of the files that are in my SkyDrive, not just the Office Docs that have originated off of my phone. And so, it becomes a little more front and center, as its own product and we'll keep moving in that direction.

On IE 9 adoption on Windows 7:

We're over 10 percent adoption of IE9 among Windows 7 users.

... it doesn't make any sense for us to build a browser for an iPad because that person isn't our customer. They're not a Windows user. It doesn't make sense for us to build a browser for an Android. And in some cases, it doesn't make sense for us to put all of our energy into even one of our very old products. And so with IE9 we made the decision, and it was a hard tradeoff, we made the decision to do a fantastic job on Windows 7 by taking advantage of the unique hardware, UI, and security components of Windows 7, and in so doing not supporting Windows XP, which means that as we look at the market, the most important thing for us is how are we doing with Windows 7 customers, because those are the people that we're trying to serve best.

On competition from Google Chrome:

What we look at is, if we can maintain or grow our share position on Windows 7, that will look like IE is losing share over the next bit as Chrome grows on XP, but it will pretty quickly turn as Windows 7 grows in total market share. And so what we're doing is taking a medium term view for how do we grow our overall share position while supporting the most important customers we have.

There’s so much more, so do be sure to read the full talk. Very, very interesting.

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