Microsoft exec praised Mac 'to change Vista process'

James Allchin was being 'purposefully dramatic' in an email praising Mac, he said

Outgoing Windows development chief James Allchin says he was being "purposefully dramatic" in a three-year-old e-mail to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer that surfaced late last week at an Iowa antitrust trial against Microsoft. In the e-mail, Allchin told his two colleagues that development on the Windows Vista operating system had gone astray and that he would buy a Macintosh from rival Apple Computer were he not a Microsoft employee.

In a posting at the Windows Vista blog early Tuesday, Allchin said the e-mail was a "rant encouraging a change to the way we were building Windows at the time. I made the comment for effect about buying a Mac if I was not working at Microsoft. Taken out of context, this comment could be confusing."

Allchin, whose e-mail quote was confirmed as genuine and direct after it was posted by open-source legal Web site, continued: "This email is nearly 3 years old, and I was being purposefully dramatic in order to drive home a point. The point being that we needed to change and change quickly. We did: We changed dramatically the development process that was being used and we reset the Windows Vista development project in mid-2004, essentially starting over."

Allchin, the co-president of Microsoft's platform and services division, is stepping down at the end of this year as Vista nears its Jan. 30 ship date to consumers. Allchin has said previously that delays in Windows Vista's arrival -- it is shipping five years after Windows XP, rather than Microsoft's aimed-for three year gap -- were due to extensive rewriting of code in order to make the OS more secure and bug-free from the get-go.

Allchin was also quoted by lawyers representing Iowa consumers in their opening arguments in the case of Comes v. Microsoft as saying Microsoft had "lost sight" of customers' needs. In his blog posting, Allchin said his comments were consistent with the "spirit of being self-critical" that "continues to flourish at Microsoft. Within Microsoft everyone considers it their duty to always put their convictions and our product quality ahead of everything else. That was the intent of my mail to Bill and Steve, and I consider it a great example of how this company can focus and do what's right for customers."

The ongoing legal fight is one of two remaining antitrust cases at the state level from the slew of cases brought by the U.S. Government and multiple states starting in the late 1990s. Microsoft has already settled one similar class-action lawsuit brought by the state of California in 2004 for US$1.1 billion.

An excerpt of the court transcript from last week's hearings -- which includes direct quotes from the proceedings and from lawyers reading various e-mails from Microsoft executives aloud -- shows how Allchin's e-mail was presented:

"Exhibit 7264. Almost three years ago, on January 7, 2004, Jim Allchin, the senior executive at Microsoft, sent an E-mail to Microsoft's top two executives, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and the subject was losing our way.

Mr. Allchin says, I'm not sure how the company lost sight of what matters to our customers, both business and home, the most, but in my view we lost our way. I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems our customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that does not translate into great products. He goes on to say, I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft."

Microsoft's lawyers are expected to begin giving their opening statements by Wednesday.

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Eric Lai

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