Q&A | Microsoft's Bill Hilf on Windows Server 2008
Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of Windows Server marketing and platform strategy, talked with The Seattle Timesin advance of the...
Seattle Times technology reporter
Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of Windows Server marketing and platform strategy, talked with The Seattle Timesin advance of the launch of Windows Server 2008, one of the company's biggest products. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation:
Q: This is obviously a big day for folks across the company and on your team who have been working on this for five years now. What does reaching a milestone like this means to them and what do you get to do at this point when it's finally out there?
A: It is a bit of a crescendo moment in many ways. To give you an example, I was getting on the Alaska [Airlines] flight to come down [to Los Angeles for the launch events Tuesday] morning. The plane's full of Microsoft people coming down and people are high-fiving and saying congrats, and even the flight attendant when we're landing said congratulations to Microsoft on the launch of great products.
There is a huge amount of work that goes into this and for a lot of the effort, we don't really see the market reaction. You basically spend five years working on something ... you don't really see how the market reacts until just these couple weeks prior. And so we've been seeing a lot of these technical reviews come out with just, quite honestly, amazing headlines.
With Windows Server 2008 in particular, it's really an order of magnitude difference from our product in the past across every dimension, from the Web server to the way you install it to the way you manage it to the performance, the reliability, security. Just go down the list, everything has a huge step forward.
We don't feel like this is an incremental release by any stretch, we think it's a pretty big sea change.
Q: Knowing that people from across the company contribute to many different products and it's tough to describe the size of the team that worked on a project like this, roughly how big was the Windows Server team?
A: One way that I think of it is as, essentially, the launch and these events are all on my nickel. I fund all these events, so I also have to fund the "Ship It" awards, which if you've seen in the Microsoft offices are the little trophies and awards people get for shipping a product. It's sort of a claim to fame for a Microsoft employee to have a "Ship It" award for a certain product. We're in the 5,000s for the "Ship It" awards according to my invoices.
Q: What's a reasonable expectation for how fast businesses are going to adopt Windows Server 2008?
A: I have literally spent months on that question cause I get to report up to all the different levels of management on our expectation as it relates to our revenue forecasts and everything else.
The server business works differently than the PC desktop business. People typically buy server [software] when they're buying their next server hardware. There's not really seasonality like with the back to school season or the holiday season, where people go buy new servers, although I'd love if that ever caught on.
We see basically a slower rollout of servers both from our side as well as our OEM partners. There is a difference, though, this time and one of the variables that I look very closely at is how ready is the overall ecosystem for us to introduce a new server ... and how quickly will things pick up?
Like the desktop, one of the principal drivers for people buying new servers is the readiness of the applications, their IT staff, the server hardware itself, what's really there.
When we launched Windows Server 2003, we had 13 ISVs — 13 major applications that were certified. Today, that number is quite different for Server 2003 because over time, more and more are built, but on the day of launch five years ago, we had 13. Today, when we launch we'll have 80 that are certified, so five times as many. These are all the big players, Symantec, Oracle, as well as a lot of open source software companies. ...
We have over 250 hardware platforms that are ready to go from day one. So the readiness of the ecosystem is substantially different. I think that will help accelerate this quite frankly. ... I anticipate a very quick pickup of this technology.
Q: Without going through the full set of features, can you highlight one or two that are going to be attractive from a business perspective?
A: Some of our customers say we always expect you to do better on the stuff you already have. They want it to be faster, more secure, more reliable. That kind of blocking and tackling.
One I like to talk about is Network Access Protection, NAP for short.
At Microsoft, when I come in to the campus and I attach to the wireless network, there's a scan of my laptop and it checks my laptop to make sure that I have right the right patches, security upgrades, antivirus software, the right signatures — basically it does a security health check. Are you healthy? And only then does it allow me access to other things on the network.
This is a technology that will exist both on the client and the server. We're putting it into our server product with Windows Server 2008. I think a lot of people nod their head and say, 'Yeah that makes a lot of sense,' but the way it's been done historically is through a lot of different types of technologies stitched together through scripts and third-party products ... and often it's pretty brittle, quite frankly.
Q: Application compatibility and driver support were nagging issues with Windows Vista and, to some extent, they still are. What kind of performance can we expect from Server 2008 in this regard?
A: Certainly, we have learned a lot from Vista about what happens when the applications aren't ready and you introduce the operating system, in some cases. Now, the story there has been increasingly better.
There is a fundamental difference you have to recognize. The device drivers and applications needed for the desktop are many orders of magnitude greater than what you need on a server. People don't plug digital cameras into a server, right? They do on a desktop.
To have 80 of the premier server applications ready by [launch day], I feel very good about that. It's way beyond my expectations of where we would be.
I think the most important thing that we did different with Server, from Vista ... is we built a tool that end users — so in our case for server, businesses — can use on their own to test their own application. That sounds sort of obvious, but in the past, the way these logo programs work is either you have to pay a lot of money to go get your application certified through a third-party or you try to test it on your own and have really no way to connect with Microsoft to understand, is that the right test?
We've never done that before as a company. ... I think that's going to help a lot. We've seen literally thousands of people starting to use that and send us information about the tool.
Q: Given your background as leader in Microsoft's open-source and interoperability efforts, and Microsoft's shift last week in that direction, is there anything specific as an example of that in Windows Server 2008?
A: I'm just over four years at the company and most of my time has been spent on open source strategy and interoperability strategy. I only took over the Windows Server job four months ago. This is really, for me, the first product that I feel that I have put a stamp on myself, not only features and capabilities, but also, quite honestly, some philosophies about the product that I think I put a stamp on.
There are small things, like being much more liberal in the way we do some of our licensing. Our Web server example is a great example of that ... greasing the skids to make our products much more consumable and usable by a broad set of end users, beyond just the classic Windows IT businesses.
But I think the most noticeable thing that will manifest over the next weeks, will be that when we talk about applications that are certified and momentum and all that, you're going to hear from the old friendlies like SAP and Symantec and Epicor. We're going to talk about the old, classic ISVs, but right along with that this time, you're going to hear about a lot of open source ISVs as well.
[In a glossy, coffee-table style marketing book Microsoft is distributing in support of the launch, the company is highlighting an example from the University of Washington.]
The reason why I'm bringing it up is it's an example of an someone who's using an open-source ISV, with Windows Server 2008, in our back yard at UW. And they're using it for these large color drawings for building and maintaining historic buildings and facilities around the campus at UW. Five years ago, would they have been in our launch material, our press briefing document, our fancy book ... as one of our marquee customers were talking about? I don't think it would have been five years ago. I think we would have probably said no to that open-source ISV, to be real honest.
The key is to make sure [interoperability efforts are] not some satellite effort that runs outside of the orbit of the rest of Microsoft. It has to be seamlessly integrated with everything else, so when we do launches now and in the future we talk about the normal ISVs that we always have talked about as well as open-source ISVs because that's the reality of today's IT environment.
Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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