Windows 8 is the riskiest product Microsoft has ever released.But the company had to take this risk.
Apple’s iPad is taking significant share of what used to be the notebook PC market, and Microsoft’s current version of Windows does not make for very good tablets.
Windows 8 is a different story.
It has a brand new interface and built in apps designed for touch screens. At the same time, if users want traditional Windows, they can get back to that look and feel in a single click.
It’s still a year away, but based on what the company showed at its Build conference last week, it looks like Microsoft and its hardware partners may have a real shot at stopping the iPad — or at least providing the first alternative that actually has a chance.
So who’s behind Microsoft’s last-ditch effort to keep Windows on top of the world?
Steve Ballmer brought Steven Sinofsky in to rescue Microsoft's most important business in mid-2006, after it became clear that Vista was going to be a train wreck. (Vista still wouldn't be released for another six months.)
Sinofsky had led the Office team for many years, and was known for being able to get new releases out on a very regular and predictable schedule. This is important because many companies buy Office upgrades ahead of time on multi-year contracts -- if Microsoft doesn't deliver a decent update each time, those companies won't renew their contracts.
Sinofsky was also known for his extreme secrecy -- even the Windows team at Microsoft couldn't get information about Office before he was ready to release it.
He's also one of the few Microsoft execs who counts both Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates as fans. (Most are in one camp or the other.) Gates once reportedly said 'we can't control Steven.'
Sinofsky brought a lot of key people over from Office to Windows, and he managed to get a solid product -- Windows 7 -- out the door less than three years. (Vista took more than five.)
Now, he's leading the charge on Windows 8. If it's a hit, he's the odds-on favourite to succeed Steve Ballmer whenever Ballmer decides to retire.
One of the first people Sinofsky brought over from the Office team was Julie Larson-Green. She heads up program management, which means she's in charge of determining which features to build and cut, and making sure that all the feature teams work together to create a coherent finished product. It's a hugely complicated and important job.
Jon DeVaan also came over from the Office group shortly after Sinofsky took charge. He's been at Microsoft for more than 25 years, and oversees all the core components of Windows like networking and the file system. A lot of these components also appear in Windows Server, making his job even more important.
Leblond (right) is another Office veteran, and led the development of Office 2010 suite after Sinofsky went over to save Windows.
Leblond followed in 2010, and works on Web services related to Windows, like Windows Update (which delivers security patches).
Here he is on stage during Sinofsky's keynote last week, demonstrating how to build a Windows 8 tablet app in under 15 minutes.
Angiulo (left) is another Sinofsky lieutenant from the Office group. His job is working with Microsoft's countless partners to make sure they make great Windows 8 devices, peripherals, and software. He also oversees Microsoft's own hardware work, including the Surface touch-screen table.
Here he is showing off some spec Windows 8 hardware at Build last week.
Testing software not a glamorous job, but it's absolutely vital -- which is why George was one of the first people Sinofsky brought over from Office with him. He'd been in charge of testing over there since 1994.
Jones is one of the few survivors from the Vista era. His Windows Live group oversees Microsoft's online services like Hotmail and SkyDrive (storage), as well as the built-in Windows software that connects to those services, like Mail and Messenger.
Internet Explorer is a weird beast -- it's part of Windows, but it's updated on a different schedule. Still, Hachamovich (right) and his team are going to play a big role in Windows 8. For instance, they decided that the tablet interface wouldn't support plug-ins like Adobe Flash, and he is leading Microsoft's relatively recent embrace of Web standards like HTML5.
Reller came to Microsoft from Great Plains, the accounting software company that Microsoft acquired in 2001. Now she's the CFO of the Windows division, and oversees finances, sales and marketing, and broad business strategy.
She isn't building Windows 8, but she's going to be responsible for selling it.
Joe Belfiore isn't on the Windows team at all -- he leads Windows Phone, which is in a totally different part of the company.
But a lot of the design concepts in the Windows 8 'Metro' tablet interface are borrowed from Windows Phone.
Going back a few years, the Zune HD had the same system of horizontal and vertical menus and the distinctive lower-case font. Belfiore oversaw that team briefly -- right when it was building the Zune HD.
In fact, there were similar menus all the way back in Windows XP Media centre Edition in 2002. That product came out of the Microsoft eHome group led by -- guess who?
Microsoft has never said exactly how many people work on the Windows team, but it's at least 1,000.
Sinofsky gave a hint of how big -- and complicated -- Windows is in a blog post where he named all 35 product teams involved in Windows 8 development. Each of those teams has between 25 and 40 people. And that doesn't count Windows Live, Internet Explorer, or the teams involved in things like product design, usability, and localisation (making sure Windows comes in dozens of languages).
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