MS's Rudder outlines Longhorn server plans

Eric Rudder, senior vice president of servers and tools at Microsoft, spoke with Computerworld recently about the direction for Longhorn, the code name for the next version of the Windows operating system.

Q: Microsoft said last November there would be no Longhorn server. Then Brian Valentine, senior vice president of the Windows division, told me in March there might be a Longhorn server. Now you're saying there will be a Longhorn server. What happened?

We typically do a server release about every three years, and we're eagerly working on the next version of Windows Server as we speak. I think in the past people have been cautious about setting customer expectations, and that potentially (caused) some of the confusion. The client guys are out saying, "Hey, our date is x." If we impart the same name, customers may link in their minds, "Oh, the server has the same name, therefore it's the same date."

So I think people were a little bit scared about setting expectations, because we're pretty serious, once we commit to the schedule for the product, to try to come close to honor that. This is a case where we're clearly customer driven in terms of feature set, and we're not date driven on our server products. We're more quality, performance, security, dependability and ecosystem driven. It would be fantastic if the server can come out close to the client and it would be fantastic if it had all the features that customer wanted. We're going to do the best we can to balance between those two business objectives.

Q: Will we see synchronized releases of the Windows client and server operating systems in the future?

I think it would be nice if it were synchronized because it probably makes it a little bit easier for customers to think about how they upgrade their networks on a consistent basis. But we're going to be driven in the end by customer demands and quality demands, and there's a set of business objectives that we need to balance between them. It's hard for me to predict a year out what the balancing is going to look like in any shape or form.

Q: What new functionality is driving the Longhorn server release?

With Windows 2003, we had the theme of "do more with less," and we want to continue to push that forward. We want to make some fundamental breakthroughs on management and the operations side. One of the big initiatives is what we call DSI, our Dynamic Systems Initiative. This is managing the platform as a whole rather than as a set of technical parts, and it impacts how we think about delivering the base Windows and the products that work with the next version of the server -- literally how we design applications and add information to applications.

You can think about scenarios where the data center sort of manages itself because it knows that you've set a performance threshold, a certain application, and can add resources or take away resources if they're not being used -- hence, the dynamic part. And overall, driving down the cost of ownership and delivering better TCO is super important.

Of course we'll continue to advance the application platform for Windows. It's important to continue to build better apps faster, and you'll see us deliver the next set of .Net technologies in there. You'll see us deliver a server version (of the) WinFS (file system) eventually, so that same functionality that's available on Longhorn client can be expressed in lots of different ways on the server.

Then, on the information worker side, we need to continue to advance that set of functionality to get benefits to the end users. So SharePoint Services will be significantly revved and our portal infrastructure as well.

Q: How much does the Linux threat come into play as you plot future operating systems?

I call it the Linux opportunity because we see massive acceleration of people moving off of Solaris and proprietary Unix versions. Those applications are coming up for grabs in the corporate space, and some of those will be platformed on Windows that never have been before. Clearly, we want to make that as easy as possible for customers. And that impacts what we do with products like Services For Unix and SQL Server, to make it easier for Oracle to come over on top of SQL Server.

On the feature set for operations or developer productivity and for end users, we look at Linux like any other competitor, be it NetWare or any other server operating system, where we want to deliver the best TCO, the best developer platform and the most end-user functionality. The best way to do that is by what we call integrated innovation. We will need to innovate in all three of those areas to be successful.

Q: Will Microsoft phase out the .Net brand?

I think we're trying to clarify some of our positioning around branding. When we first launched Word and Excel, we used to be very adamant about calling it Word for Windows and Excel for Windows. Eventually people understood, "Oh, there's this new platform Windows," and they started calling it Word and Excel and, of course, eventually Office.

With the initial platform enthusiasm, we made sure that everybody saw the .Net name all the time to make sure that they understood that it was really about the new platform. It was important, for example, in the developer space to really call Visual Studio "Visual Studio .Net" to make it clear that "Hey, this was the tools set for delivering .Net applications."

But as people understand that .Net really is Microsoft's platform message, when people say the word Visual Studio now, I think we've sort of implied that it's Visual Studio for .Net. As that clarity comes, I think we probably won't use .Net in as many suffix ways as we have in the past.

Q: Microsoft recently named chief financial officers for each of its seven business units -- a decision that reportedly was influenced by Jack Welch's model at General Electric. Unlike GE, which has divisions for starkly different product lines, Microsoft's divisions sell software products that are interrelated and often integrated. What are your feelings about being organized as separate business entities despite having products that are so connected? For instance, the Windows server operating system falls under your profit-and-loss (P&L) center and the Window client operating system falls under another.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts is a key mantra for us, and I don't think that any of us who run any of the seven P&Ls think about, "We're seven different businesses." We do share a common road map. And the place where Bill (Gates) and Steve (Ballmer) really contribute is making sure that there's great synergy across those boundaries, and we are incredibly serious about integrated innovation. And you're right, it is difficult for a software company to do that. That's why so much of the effort is spent making sure we work well across groups.

So my team has key commitments to other businesses that are super important. At the same time, we provide services out to other businesses that are equally critical. ... We do spend a tremendous amount of time working together as an executive team, making sure that we really optimize not just for the businesses but for the company overall. ... I spend a lot of time absolutely working to optimize for our customers across scenarios rather than trying to just maximize revenue within some server P&L.

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