Q&A: Behind the Scenes of the Windows 2000 Development Effort

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 15, 1999 — Microsoft this week announced the release to manufacturing of Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. As the Windows 2000 team finishes up the most intense development in the company’s history, Microsoft Windows Division senior vice president Brian Valentine and group program manager Iain McDonald reflect upon the joy, frustrations and accomplishments of the past year.

PressPass: How many people contributed to the development of Windows 2000?

Valentine: Our core group was 2,500. But everyone at Microsoft contributed and delivered for Windows 2000. It wasn’t limited just to the people who worked on the project full-time.

PressPass: What types of people contributed?

Valentine: Everyone at Microsoft contributed greatly. There were developers, testers, managers — not to mention the people who made the espresso. It was truly a company-wide effort. At Microsoft, we have a culture that says that everyone is equally important. So there are thousands of different types of jobs, all of which were vital to this effort. We also worked very closely with a number of early adopters in the Joint Development Program (JDP) and Rapid Deployment Program (RDP), and we mailed out thousands of betas to beta testers to gain their feedback. There were many contributors to the project both internally at Microsoft and externally through other companies.

PressPass: How often did the core development team meet?

McDonald: We had a conference room that we called the “War Room,” which was the central project management room. In this room, the key people across the project met very often — usually seven days a week. Depending on where we were on the project, we would meet as many as three times a day. We had to meet this often to stay focused on the important issues that came up. This way, we could review all of our progress and challenges, and everybody constantly knew the status of the project.

PressPass: Were there any especially humorous episodes that you’d like to share?

McDonald: During a large-scale project like Windows 2000, there are many funny moments. We did try to keep things as light as possible, especially since the atmosphere can get very intense at times. I remember one time when we were focused on an interim release called Beta 3. We had set a release date for April 1 of this year, and we were determined to make it. And in the end, we did make it. Just before the release was finalized, we held a big team meeting in the cafeteria. At that meeting, Brian said, “I’m going to sign off on this release right now,” and he grabbed a marker pen and wrote his name on one of the walls of the cafeteria. And suddenly, in an outburst of celebration, a frenzy of people grabbed pens and wrote their names on the wall. In a few minutes, we had about 1,000 names on the wall. Then some people decided to get some paint and rollers, and they began rolling their names on the walls. Well, the place just got trashed. It was a very funny day. The cafeteria needed a new paint job anyway — so we just moved up the painting schedule a bit and covered everything up a few days later.

PressPass: How did the development team overcome particularly hard times?

McDonald: We’ve completed large projects before, so we knew what to expect. From day one, everyone was focused on doing the best job. In addition, as project manager, I tried to set up fairly short milestones. They were able to make short jumps to realize the rewards of their work, which is important. They had to feel that there was an end in sight — that the next goal was just around the bend.

PressPass: What were the major milestones in developing Windows 2000?

Valentine: In a project of this scale, there are many milestones. But the first major milestone was the release of Beta 3, which was the largest beta that Microsoft has ever done. At that point, we felt good because we knew the end was near. A second milestone was when we started rolling out Windows 2000 within Microsoft and to some of our major customers. That meant the product was ready for general release. It meant that people trusted our software enough that they were using it to improve their businesses. For us, that said a lot.

PressPass: How did you know when Windows 2000 is ready for release to manufacturing?

Valentine: We have certain testing levels to meet. Every day, we addressed issues one by one. As we did this, we got fewer and fewer bugs. The code passed our stress tests each day, even though it was being run under increasingly greater stress. In addition, Microsoft’s information technology infrastructure has been running on Windows 2000 for several months. So, we know that we’re ready to go.

PressPass: What were some of the major challenges you faced in the development process?

McDonald: The challenges were mainly psychological. Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a project, you feel as though you’ll never finish. In particular, this feeling creeps up on you if you miss a release date. Unfortunately, towards the end of the project we would slip a few days or a week behind schedule, but this was in order to ensure that the software was of the highest quality. But, when you do slip, it sometimes feels like the project will never end.

PressPass: What factors went into Windows 2000 to ensure its quality?

Valentine: We ensure quality in a number of ways. We look at how well the system runs in production. So, we closely watch 100 servers that we have deployed internally. We test for everything that could possibly go wrong both in-house and with our customers and keep careful track of that. We also stress-test applications. We run a couple thousand machines each night, which emulate two or three years of PC usage. Then we solve each problem as it comes up. We are very focused on all quality issues — more so than at anytime in the past.

PressPass: How does Windows 2000 performance compare to previous versions of Windows?

Valentine: It’s much faster. We have a special team that focuses on nothing but performance improvements. And I’ve seen comments in newsgroups and press reports that testify to improved performance. Many reports talk about the improved performance. Upon using the product, people immediately will notice the performance gains.

PressPass: What has been your best memory of the project?

McDonald: Personally, my best memory is the experience in the “War Room.” It was great to be at the core of the project, and it was actually quite a lot of fun. The meetings were definitely not boring, the kind where people sit around and say nothing. They were loud and uproarious. I really enjoyed the people I worked with and the personal interaction we had.

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