As Windows Vista is released to manufacturing (RTM) today — a significant milestone for Microsoft and its partners — anticipation is building around that all-important question: How good is it really?
Microsoft says Windows Vista is its most heavily tested operating system ever, with deep investments made to ensure greater security, reliability and usability. But after all the time, expense and effort to get it right, does Windows Vista meet the quality bar? For answers to this and other questions about the quality of Windows Vista, PressPass spoke with Sven Hallauer, release manager and director of program management at Microsoft.
Windows Vista was released to manufacturing today -- what does that mean?
Release to manufacturing signifies the completion of our development work and the start of the next phase for Windows Vista. Windows Vista is the highest-quality version of Windows that we’ve ever produced. We’ve had more people test more builds than previous development cycles, and the result is that we received more feedback than ever before.
That being said, Windows Vista’s journey is not yet done. PC makers, device manufacturers and software developers can finalize work on their products and applications to ensure great customer experiences when Windows Vista becomes available -- to our volume license customers this month and consumers on January 30, 2007.
How do you define quality in relation to an operating system release? What are the important elements?
It’s a combination of the core operating system capability, plus ecosystem support and compatibility. In terms of core quality, we talk about three important factors — reliability, usability and security.
Reliability. We didn’t just fix the bugs, we took a new look at the classic places where customers have had the most pain. For example, we have a much more robust feedback mechanism built into Windows Vista to detect application crashes and hangs. We made a special effort to fix those issues, both through bug fixing and architectural changes in Windows Vista.
We also built mechanisms into the product to get more actionable feedback from customers to understand where their pain points are. Furthermore, we made that same degree of feedback available to our partners, and we made it easier for them to put updates on Windows Update, so that changes can be propagated to customers more easily. Finally, with Windows Vista we also doubled the number of stress tests that we run on a daily basis compared with Windows XP SP2, including a new kind termed “long haul” stress testing where systems are monitored over a 15-day period to ensure that they don’t exhibit any reliability issues. So there are a large number of factors that contribute to improved reliability in Windows Vista.
Usability. It’s important to note that usability isn’t just about how easy it is to get things done, but also about the performance of the system as a whole. With Windows Vista the usability of your system can get better every day as the operating system learns what you do and tailors itself to meet your needs. It does this using a new memory manager called SuperFetch. Before Windows Vista, computers allocated memory by reacting to requests — when the user ran an application, the operating system pulled the data into memory from a hard disk. With SuperFetch, the memory manager is proactive. SuperFetch discovers usage patterns and prepares commonly used data before the user needs it. For example, if a user logs in around 9 a.m. every morning and runs Microsoft Outlook, SuperFetch learns this and proactively ensures that Microsoft Outlook is ready in memory a few minutes before 9 a.m.
Security. Security is top of mind for all who work at Microsoft. We made significant investments in this area, focusing on defense in depth as well as more traditional code fuzzing techniques. Windows Vista is the first Microsoft operating system to be designed under the Secure Development Lifecycle (SDL), which is Microsoft’s process for building more secure software. We also applied computer science to the engineering process itself, using automated tools to search for code defects and prevent them from ever entering the product. This means that end users are more protected out of the box. We did this by adding features such as Internet Explorer Protected Mode, User Account Control and Windows Defender, which help people better protect themselves and their PCs by default. We did a study of all critical issues that affected Windows XP SP2 between November 2003 to September 2006 and found that the vast majority of these issues would either not affect Windows Vista at all or would have been reduced in severity due to the changes we’ve made. We know that even though Windows Vista is a more secure operating system it’s not impenetrable, and there will always be people looking for flaws. We’ve worked hard to make their job difficult.
What about ecosystem support? What has Microsoft done to ensure that ISVs (independent software vendors) and IHVs (independent hardware vendors) are ready?
The launch date is a significant milestone for many of these companies. When we release a product to manufacturing, the ecosystem always ramps up quickly. When our hardware and software partners get gold code, they will have comparatively more time compared to Windows XP for the consumer launch in January to get ready, and more applications and hardware will be ready to work with the operating system than in any prior operating system release. This is a very common process and we expect that between today and January 30, 2007, the quantity and quality of device drivers will improve dramatically. For example, hundreds of top-tier ISV applications that we test today will be available with an upgrade or an update by the time we launch so that each of them works great with Windows Vista.
While we have the results of many successful initiatives integrated into Windows Vista, two initiatives stand out from a hardware vendor perspective. These are native support of DX10 graphics hardware, helping to offload work from the CPU to the GPU (graphics processing unit) while at the same time increasing the visual appeal and usability of Windows Vista, and the new print infrastructure. In both of these areas, we’ve been partnering with industry for years to provide feedback and prepare their solutions for market. We’ve talked about the operating system’s various features and how to get ready for it at the Professional Developer Conference, TechEd and WinHEC.
For ISVs, we’ve provided a new application interface for Windows that is based on managed code — .NET 3.0 — that enables them to leverage the Windows platform for the next generation of online as well as offline applications. In addition, our work on building the DX10 platform will enable the next generation of games as well as photorealistic modeling applications to be developed for the PC.
Finally, to help ISVs get their software ready for Windows Vista, Microsoft has launched the "Works with Windows Vista" and "Certified for Windows Vista" software logo programs. When building their next generation of Windows applications, ISVs should build towards the "Certified for Windows Vista" software logo specification. By certifying their software for Windows Vista, ISVs can differentiate their products and communicate to customers that their software has met explicit standards of quality and reliability. We currently have more than one thousand ISVs engaged in our Windows Vista early adopter programs and developing the next-generation of Windows applications.
For ISVs' current Windows XP applications, ISVs should test to ensure their applications are compatible with Windows Vista and submit their compatibility status through the "Works with Windows Vista" submission tool. ISVs can then use the "Works with Windows Vista" logo on their product box, Web page and other marketing material.
Participation in either of the Windows Vista logo programs enables ISVs to communicate the Windows Vista compatibility status of their applications through the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit, Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor and Windows Marketplace. Developers can learn more by visiting http://www.innovateonwindowsvista.com.
What have you done in Windows Vista so customers can deploy right away?
Windows Vista is built to be our most reliable operating system yet. We used new development methodologies that helped us build more secure and reliable software, and thanks to the Internet, we’ve distributed pre-release versions of Windows Vista to many more testers than ever before. There’s no doubt that this process has increased the quality of feedback we’ve received. Additionally, the pre-release versions of Windows Vista submitted crash data directly to Microsoft, which allowed us to learn about and address far more problems than for any previous versions of Windows.
The Web also enhances our ability to service Windows Vista. The most critical updates to the operating system, such as security and other important updates, will be delivered via Windows Update when they are ready so enterprises and consumers can deploy with confidence today.
We have also provided enterprises with the tools they need to deploy earlier, such as the Application Compatibility Toolkit, which we historically developed post product release.
What is Microsoft doing in Windows Vista to ensure application compatibility for enterprise customers?
Application compatibility is a concern of organizations as they prepare to roll out Windows Vista. Microsoft took steps to address the concern earlier this year when it launched the Application Compatibility Toolkit to help customers identify applications that were not ready. More recently, we have taken our commitment a step further with the Windows Vista Application Compatibility Factory. The Application Compatibility Factory is an initiative that teams Microsoft with systems partners to help customers assess their applications’ compatibility with the operating system, remediate the applications as needed and then manage the deployment of Windows Vista across their company. We’ve also done a lot of outreach to get the ISV community up to speed, such as compatibility workshops.
Looking ahead, has a date yet been set for the availability of Windows Vista for business customers? And what about general availability in 2007? Is everything on track?
Microsoft is hosting a series of events around the world on November 30 to officially recognize business availability of the 2007 Microsoft Office system, Exchange Server 2007 and Windows Vista, and we announced today that the worldwide general availability launch is January 30, 2007. So yes, everything is on track and we’re very excited about it.