Microsoft's Sinofsky Lifts Cone of Silence (Sort Of)

Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's reclusive senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, finally decided to talk to the outside world earlier this week about what's going on with Redmond's operating systems, most notably Windows 7.

But after reading the Q&A he did with CNET, the outside world still isn't a heck of a lot smarter about the upcoming operating system than it was before Sinofsky broke his self-imposed radio silence.

About 10 months ago in his blog, Sinofsky presented his reasons for not talking about upcoming products, stating that "corporations are not really transparent" but more like "translucent." He added that all organizations "have things that are visible and things that are not." Well, in his first public communication, Sinofsky was more opaque.

Just about every attempt to find out details about technical features that might be included in Windows 7 -- including the kernel, the interface and device driver model -- was stonewalled with some variation of "We are not ready to talk about that yet" or "Let's stick to a higher level discussion." About all Sinofsky would say is that Microsoft would deliver the next major release of Windows three years after it delivered Vista, putting it some time in January 2010. (So Microsoft misses another Christmas selling season like it did with Vista?) "We're excited; the investments that we have are really about producing a major and significant release at that time," he said in the CNET interview.

Well, he's about the only one excited by the work going on with Windows 7, and figures to be the only one for quite some time. Given the crashing disappointment that is Vista, you'd think Sinofsky might want to generate some interest and excitement -- hope, even -- by offering IT professionals, their users and third-party developers just a few details about what to expect in an operating system still 20 months away. Or, at the very least, provide some information about what Microsoft might be planning to do about enhancing Vista to give users of that beleaguered operating system some encouragement.

As far as I can tell, Sinofsky apparently won't have anything to offer Vista users except, we assume, another service pack at some point. With the indifference he displayed toward the needs of its users and developers, Sinofsky didn't make Microsoft any new friends -- something the company is going need plenty of heading into the new age of software development. He might have been better off maintaining his radio silence a little longer.

Bill and Steve's Road Show Rolls On
It seems Mr. Sinofsky's bosses can be just as, ah, "translucent" about the future of their operating systems. Speaking at the "D: All Things Digital Conference," Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer also talked about Windows 7 and Vista, but shed no more light on the subjects than did Chatterbox Sinofsky. Even the brief demo of Windows 7's "multi-touch" interface didn't tell attendees much.

One interesting tidbit the Dynamic Duo dropped was that Windows 7 would ship before the end of 2009. How much before, of course, Batman and Robin didn't say.

But what attendees likely found even more annoying was that neither gentleman admitted to any deficiencies in Vista -- but instead were quick to point out that Redmond has now shipped over 150 million copies of the product. Well, Bill and Steve, shipping 150 million copies or even another 150 million copies isn't going to assuage the disappointment over Vista.

Ballmer did admit that looking back, Microsoft might have done some things differently with Vista (ya think?). He blamed "compatibility issues" that have plagued the OS because of the inordinate amount of time the company spent on beefing up its security shortcomings.

The sneak peek demo of Windows 7 showed off the multi-touch feature by having it work with a paint program, as well as with a collection of photos and a mapping program. The demo lasted less than five minutes, and showed off only the user interface and none of the upcoming operating systems capabilities.

Ozzie Calls Microsoft's Culture One of Crisis
Speaking yesterday at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York, Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie said his company has created a "culture of crisis" over the past couple of decades, as it has been forced to respond to one major competitive threat to its business after another.

The good news about this, according to Ozzie, is that with each new challenge, Microsoft has grown stronger as a result. (The bad new there, I guess, would be that Microsoft apparently is always in crisis mode.)

And so this is why Redmond is treating its latest threat -- Google and its growing raft of online software disciples -- as just one more battle in a very long war. In fact, the current battle with Google isn't as big a deal as the battle Microsoft waged against the open source community. While Ozzie described Google as a "tremendously strong competitor," he said open source competitors were "much more potentially disruptive" to his company's overall business.

(Notice that he said "were" more potentially disruptive. Hmm. It seems Ray assumes Redmond's wars with the open source world are a thing of the past -- or that it has reached a new era of co-opetition.)

Ozzie also used the occasion to pull out his stump speech on Live Mesh where he again underlined the importance of "meshing" together people and devices.

Another interesting remark came during a question on the importance and role of virtualization in the industry today. Showing that he's fully enveloped now in the Microsoft culture, Ozzie said he thinks virtualization could easily be though of as part or extension of the operating system. I'll bet you Diane Greene at VMware and Mark Templeton at Citrix will sit up straight when they hear that.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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