Windows Engineer Touches the Future of Computing

Editor’s note:
This is the first story in “

Seven Behind Windows 7

,” a series featuring Microsoft employees who helped build Windows 7.

REDMOND, Wash. – October 21, 2009 – Yves Neyrand says stage fright is real.

Yves Neyrand, the director of test for the Windows Developer Experience team, helped create Windows 7’s new multitouch functionality.

The director of test for Windows Developer Experience says that’s what he and his team have been feeling in the days before Windows 7 launches on Oct. 22.

Neyrand grew up in France, graduated from college with a degree in math and physics, taught math in the Congo for two years, then worked in the oil fields of the Middle East for three years as a field engineer, where he processed and analyzed geophysical data. “This is where I developed my passion for computers,” he said.

He came to the United States in 1987 and worked as an independent computer consultant before joining Microsoft as a contractor in 1995. Neyrand worked on a number of Windows 7 features, including the new Windows ribbon (an Office-like feature for Windows applications), new accessibility features for users with disabilities, and Windows Touch – a key feature in the new operating system.

On the eve of Windows 7’s launch, PressPass spoke with Neyrand about the new features in Windows 7.

PressPass: What is multitouch, and what can people do with it?

Neyrand: Multitouch (Windows Touch) is both a feature and a platform that developers can use to enable multitouch capabilities in their applications. In the Vista timeframe, the Tablet team actually shipped single touch, where you could basically use your finger as a mouse to click buttons or pull up menus and things like that. Now the market has changed, and it was important for us to follow what hardware was doing and provide multitouch capabilities in Windows 7. Multitouch in Windows Touch is a whole new world compared to single touch because you can do things that are of course single touch, but you can also include a new mode of interacting with your computer that is based on gestures. Typical examples of that are being able to zoom in to a picture, site, or page; or rotating things; or doing power taps with two fingers that let you define a whole new bunch of interactions you can have with your computer. It actually lets you, with your fingers, control things that would take either several clicks of the mouse or several clicks on the keyboard and do it in a more intuitive manner.
PressPass: Are you looking forward to seeing your feature out in the world with the launch? How do you think people will react to it?
Neyrand: Of course! Multitouch is one of the most talked-about new features in Windows 7, and we are super-excited for it to hit the market. All the feedback from the early adopters has been very positive, and we can’t wait to see what developers are going to do with it. Now, of course, in the last few days before launch we’re like a singer before a big premiere. Stage fright is real!

Neyrand demonstrates Windows 7’s multitouch feature by zooming in on and rotating a photo with his fingers.

PressPass: What was the biggest hurdle you faced working on multitouch?

Neyrand: Testing touch was challenging for several reasons. To start with, the user perception of the correct touch behavior is subjective, making it hard to define reliable metrics. It is also difficult to fully dissociate the different layers of the touch technology stack, such as drivers, middle layers, top-level applications, as they all co-depend on each other to define the overall experience. There were also only a few multitouch-enabled devices for us to work with during the development process, and last but not least, deeply rooted hardware dependencies make automation fairly difficult. This presented us with a good set of challenges, but in the end the team delivered and I believe did a great job.

PressPass: How did you get customer input about multitouch, and did this feedback change its design or development?

Neyrand: We worked very closely with OEMs and hardware manufacturers of multitouch devices, since as I mentioned, the overall touch experience is very tied to hardware. We also worked closely with users and focus groups both within and outside Microsoft, including of course software developers. This feedback allowed us to better target not only the default “out of the box” touch experience, but also the API set which developers can use to leverage multitouch in their Windows applications.

PressPass: What’s the thing you’re proudest of in Windows 7?

Neyrand: Shipping pretty much exactly on the ship date we had set for ourselves early in the product cycle and with the best final test results I have seen in all my releases of Windows. Both can be attributed to our ability to “plan the work, and work the plan” and certainly validated all our efforts in that respect.

PressPass: Was teamwork important to this project and your feature, and how so?

Neyrand: Teamwork is everything – not only teamwork, but also cross-team work. Touch is a feature that spans many organizational boundaries, across many technologies. Yet in the end, the only thing that matters is the quality of the user experience. Good teamwork is more than critical: It is essential.

PressPass: What was the most important thing you learned while working on Windows 7?

Neyrand: Plan the work, then work the plan. The single most important improvement to the Windows process was how we scoped and planned each and every milestone as a full engineering release across disciplines. This allowed us to control feature completion and quality in a way we could not achieve before while facilitating cross-team interactions and dependencies.

PressPass: What was a typical day like working on Windows 7?

Neyrand: There was no such thing as a typical day working on Windows 7. That’s what made it so exciting and so interesting. Every day brought its new set of challenges. I guess if anything, that was your typical expectation for the day.

PressPass: What do you need to do your best work?

Neyrand: I drink a lot of green tea and like munching on almonds when I get stressed.

PressPass: What’s next for you at Microsoft?

Neyrand: Working on the next version of Windows.

PressPass What do you do when you’re not working?

Neyrand: I am married and have two young daughters, ages 3 and 5, who are my heart and soul. I enjoy music, traveling, movies, spending time with friends, good food and wine—being French, that’s a must. I like to play squash, and I am an avid scuba diver.

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