Windows 7 Developer Hosts Famous Chinese TV Star, Talks Shop

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

Seven Behind Windows 7

,” a series featuring employees who helped build the new operating system.

After working for three years on Windows 7, its launch on Oct. 22 was the moment Microsoft employee Song Zou had long been waiting for.

Then Zou, who grew up in China, found out he’d be hosting one of that country’s most popular television personalities, Wang Han, in Zou’s Bellevue home. And that he’d be talking about Windows 7 on Han’s show, “Day Day Up.”

As a member of the Windows 7 Desktop Experience Team, Zou worked for three years to develop, test and refine high-profile features such as the Start menu, as well as new features such as the taskbar and “the Aeros” – Aero Shake, Aero Snap, and Aero Peek.

“It was certainly a very proud moment,” said Zou, a 12-year Microsoft employee and a principle development lead for the Windows Core Experience Team. “It was exciting that my friends and family in China could see what I do here and the work I did for Windows 7.”

Zou said the popularity of the show’s host made the visit roughly on par with having “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest or judge Simon Cowell pop in for tea.

Microsoft is immensely popular and well-respected in China, Zou said, which is why the “Day Day Up” cast and crew recently visited Microsoft’s Redmond campus to talk about the release of Windows 7 and demonstrate some of its new features –such as the new taskbar and “Aero Shake” that Zou helped develop.

The name “Day Day Up” is taken from a famous Mao Zedong quotation that translates literally from Chinese as “good good study.” It means “study hard and improve every day.” During the Mao era, this phrase was used widely in schools.

Zou said the show’s crew was full of hijinks. Members of the show sang silly folk songs with Microsoft employees who are Chinese, staged a mock job interview, and “decorated” the office windows of Mike Nash, corporate vice president for Windows Platform Strategy. The next day, the crew visited Zou at his house.

“That day, I was really nervous,” said Zou, who found out only the afternoon before that he’d be hosting the crew. When they arrived, the hosts made everyone feel at ease, and Wang Han even swapped magic tricks with Zou’s 7-year-old son Matthew.“It was a great experience for me,” Zou said.

As a member of the Windows 7 Desktop Experience Team, Zou worked with his team and others for three years to develop, test and refine high-profile features such as the Start menu, and new Windows 7 features such as the taskbar and “the Aeros” – Aero Shake, Aero Snap, and Aero Peek.

“Aero” stands for “authentic, energetic, reflective and open,” and it is the central graphical and user interface theme of Windows 7.

PressPass recently spoke with Zou about his work on Windows 7.

There’s been a lot of talk about the new Aero Shake feature. How does it work? When you shake a Window (with the mouse), all of your background Windows go away. And when you shake it again, they come back. Sometimes you have a lot of clutter (on the desktop), and you just want to concentrate on exactly what you’re doing. With a shake, they go away. And when you want to go back to where you were, you shake and they all come back.

Microsoft employee Song Zou, who grew up in China, hosted the cast and crew of one of that country’s most popular television shows in his Bellevue home. Zou, fourth from the right holding his son Ethan, 2, poses with the “Day Day Up” television show crew in front of his house.

How are people reacting to Aero Shake?

Users love it. We had the usability tests and this is one of the features that got people excited.

When you were building these new features, what was the biggest challenge or hurdle you faced?

To make sure we made the right changes. We worked on the core UI (user interface), and it is something millions of users use every day. We wanted to make sure every change we made was something well thought out.

What was a typical day like during the height of building Windows 7?

The new taskbar (team) had eight or nine developers and a similar number of testers working on it at the same time. Our feature team had a daily sync up meeting from 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. During the meeting, the developers, testers and project manager talked about where everyone was so we were in sync. I usually tried to do most of my coding before the daily meeting. Late in the afternoon, it was usually daily triage. The program manager, development, and test leads from the feature team tried to go through our incoming bugs for the day. Sometimes we got 300-plus bugs a day.

What do you need to do your best work?

I usually start the day running on treadmill for 20 minutes. It gives me the energy to sustain for the whole day.

How did you get customer input, and how did that feedback change the work you did?

For the taskbar, we developed a fully functional prototype early on. Then, we had the prototype deployed to serve internal and external customers for a month-long study. The positive feedback from the study gave us a lot of confidence that we were on the right track.

The beta and release candidate program were also an incredibly useful way to get real-world feedback. For example, we were not sure if the taskbar should have the “Always combined, hide labels” option as a default (which meant only logos of programs pinned to the taskbar would appear, not labels or names of those programs). The beta program really put that doubt to rest, and that is now the Windows 7 taskbar default.

Was teamwork important to development of the desktop features?

Absolutely. Many of the new UX (user experience) features in Windows 7 were done by many developers, project managers and testers on the feature team. We also wouldn’t have been successful without the help from the design team, usability team, and many other teams at Microsoft. From helping us get the best performance to making sure customer feedback gets to us, many people on the Windows team worked together to make the new UI features successful.

What was the most important or surprising thing you learned while working on Windows 7?

I learned the impact we can have. We received an overwhelming amount of feedback in beta. If we had a bug, we definitely heard about it from our internal self-hosters and beta customers. The amount of positive feedback from beta and external customer was unbelievable. It just reminds me every day how lucky I am working on a product with impact to so many people.

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

The day Windows 7 shipped. I was proud to see something we worked on for three years getting to the hands of customers.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I have two boys. Matthew is 7, and Ethan is 2. When I am not working, my time is dedicated to them. Our favorite activity is going to the Pacific Science Center to look at dinosaurs.

What’s next for you at Microsoft?

I love working in the user experience of Windows 7. I will continue working as a development lead for Windows user experience.

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