Giving Windows 7 Users a Jump Ahead

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

Seven Behind Windows 7

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

REDMOND, Wash. – Jan. 4, 2010 – Rebecca Deutsch is a hub.

The senior program manager loves her job connecting spokes and keeping the wheel turning. For Windows 7, the wheel Deutsch helped turn was to develop a brand new feature that allows users to more quickly jump to frequently used destinations.

The Windows 7 Jump List feature quickly transports a user to frequently or recently used files, Web sites and more.

Called a Jump List, the feature is activated when a user right-clicks certain icons in the taskbar or hovers over icons in the Start menu. The Jump List window then pops up with links to transport the user to frequently or recently used documents, files, Web sites and more.

“It starts working automatically as you start using Windows 7, opening files,” Deutsch says. “Creating new files, visiting Web sites, creating folders, playing music—all of your actions contribute to the knowledge of the system to be able to compile the things that are used the most. With the Jump List, accessing the things you use most is just another click away.”

Deutsch, who interned twice on Microsoft’s Windows team as a Carnegie Mellon University student, joined the company as an employee after graduating. More than five years later, she still enjoys working on the “pieces that make up the cornerstones of what the Windows operating system means to users.” The News Center asked her about working on Windows 7.

The News Center: What feature did you work on for Windows 7, and what does it do?

Deutsch: I worked on a couple of different areas. The Jump List feature was a lot of my focus. I also worked on the Start menu in Windows 7, which was not changed too radically but had some maintenance and targeted feature improvement, like adding the Jump List.

The News Center: What is a Jump List, and how does it work?

Deutsch: The real core of it is getting you to your end destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. You’re not launching Word to see the blank document. Often, what you’re really trying to do is get to your content, task, Web site, file, album, or whatever it is. The idea of the Jump List is to reduce all those extra steps that you used to have to do to get to your end goal.

The News Center: What was a typical day like working on Windows 7?

Deutsch: That’s a really hard question to answer, especially for a project manager. Our job changes a lot as you go through the product cycle.

During planning, it’s back-to-back meetings talking with small groups hashing out ideas and proposals. As you move into development, the day becomes a lot more about closing the door and sitting heads-down to hammer out the feature specifications on a page so that developers and testers can have a concrete document to work on of what they need to build.

I sometimes think of my job as being the center of a wheel with a lot of different spokes, and I need to make sure the whole wheel is turning together, going in the right direction, and getting there on time.

The News Center: Was teamwork important to the Jump List feature?

Deutsch: Hugely. We had a really strong feature team that spanned across all the disciplines working together. Really, from day one we were doing brainstorms and planning meetings, and all the pieces were very critical and needed to work all together through planning and development. Beyond that, there was also a great collaboration across the project managers on our team because a lot of the pieces hinged together. A Jump List isn’t something that can live on its own, being part of the taskbar and part of the Start menu.

Rebecca Deutsch, senior program manager who helped develop the new Jump List feature, says she finds the color purple calming.

The News Center: What do you need to do your best work?

Deutsch: It’s a little bit silly, but I’ve always felt very akin to the color purple as a soothing, calming thing. There’s a lot of purple in my office, and I wear a lot of purple, and I have a reaction that’s calming and grounding when I see that color.

There’s time of day—I tend to be more of a night owl than a morning person. I’ve kind of always done better work in the later hours than the early hours, but I’m trying to find ways to accommodate both. And there’re other people—I really thrive with a strong team and other great minds to bounce ideas off and discuss and debate. That’s where we see the best ideas, is through those discussions.

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

Deutsch: I am proud of the Windows 7 process going from the start to the end without losing sight of the value of what we were trying to provide. It really kind of cemented a perspective and way of working that is valuable to carry forward to future versions of Windows. It’s not about just thinking of cool ideas or changing things for change’s sake. It’s really about understanding what we’re doing so that we are grounded in our goals and the problems we’re trying to solve.

The News Center: How did customer feedback help you build the Jump List feature?

Deutsch: We really did a lot of deep work on understanding the usability of our feature using the customers’ reaction and needs. We definitely got lots and lots of feedback.

We had a lot of prototyping going on early on in labs, and we brought users in to try it and sent prototypes out to real customers to use for a couple of months at a time. That was really critical in helping us hone the design and refine it so we weren’t getting huge surprises at the end.

The News Center: What was the biggest challenge or hurdle you faced working on your feature?

Deutsch: As with any kind of feature development, you can get some great ideas that can balloon into huge, huge amounts of work. We were trying to home in on the core values we were trying to provide with the feature and to not lose sight of that as we were adjusting plans and implementation to make it feasible.

It’s easy during that process of scoping to lose sight of what the value of the end result is, so we really just had to make sure we were able to find ways of delivering that value in a way that we could meet our deadlines and make it feasible to build. With the Jump List, we had an idea of the feature we wanted to provide, and there were so many ways we could have implemented it—and we just had to find the right path to meet our deadline and still make it feasible and high quality.

The News Center: What’s the thing you’re proudest of in Windows 7?

Deutsch: I felt like we had a super strong team that worked well together. There was a lot of debate, but in a healthy way. Everyone was really very much collaborating on the same page about making something great together rather than as individuals. I’m also pretty proud that we didn’t have any major surprises in the last minutes. It really spoke to the diligence and depth of our planning and product cycle.

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