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Monday, January 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:14 PM

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Microsoft's Allchin has final mission of Vista delivery

Seattle Times technology reporter

Talk about a swan song.

Retiring Windows boss Jim Allchin is putting final touches on software that could finally help people start feeling safe and secure using a PC, if all goes according to plan.

Allchin gave an overview last week of Windows Vista, the new version of Microsoft's flagship software that Allchin's team is set to deliver before he retires at the end of 2006. He said it's on track to go on sale by the holidays.

Other highlights include a built-in search system for finding and sorting through files on a PC; translucent graphics with a control panel down the right side of the desktop; and a new media player and Internet browser.

Vista is Microsoft's first new PC operating system since the company overhauled its development process to emphasize security. Among Vista's security features is a protected mode that, in effect, puts an umbrella around the browser, insulating the PC from users' online activity, Allchin said.

Microsoft also changed its practice of releasing several near-final "beta" test versions. Instead it's issuing "community-technology preview" or CTP versions, including one for big companies over the next month. In an interview with The Seattle Times, Allchin also discussed competition with Apple Computer, the future of the PC market and his dreams for Vista. Here's an edited transcript:

Q: We've heard of big course changes during Vista's development. Is it delayed?

A: We made all the deliveries that we said we would when we decided that we were going to re-engineer our processes for building the product.

Q: So it's still going on sale this year?

A: We still feel very good about making broad availability in this calendar year. This new approach to releasing the software — where in the past we had these large betas and now we're moving to this new program of more frequent drops — it's working out very, very well. We were able to reach feature-complete much earlier than what we anticipated and actually this quarter's CTP will have all the features that we're planning for the product in it.

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The bottom line is that this new program is letting us develop the product faster. We're getting more feedback on it and it's working out pretty well so far.

Q: So it's not late?

A: We're on track, as I mentioned, for this holiday year. I will also make a cautionary notice that I will not ship this product if it doesn't achieve the quality that's demanded by our customers. So although everything looks great right now, quality will be the deciding factor. I feel pretty good right now and we'll see how it goes the rest of the year.

Q: Is "holiday 2006"' a bit later than expected?

A: No, that's what we've always said. That's what I said last April; that has been the plan since 2004.

Q: Are there any features you regret leaving out?

A: Well, that's a hard thing. There's nothing that comes to mind right now. At this point, literally, I just want to complete what we've got in there because it's so rich in terms of features.

Q: Will you make a version of Vista for Apple computers, now that they're using Intel processors?

A: We have no plans to move Vista to the Macintosh hardware.

Q: There's a bit of feature overlap with your new operating system and Apple's. What is the competitive situation going to be like now that you're on the same hardware platform?

A: I actually am not sure that sharing the same hardware platform's going to make that much difference, personally. People may disagree on that perspective. ... We're a massive company. By that, I mean that Apple really has no presence in business, and we think Vista's going to have a huge presence in business. We think we're going to help the corporate IT stack save money.

We think we're going to help information workers. And we think in the home space, we have significant advancements that we're very proud of, in terms of how we integrate with TV and how we do gaming.

And most important, we're super proud of the fact that we're a partnership-level company where we're working with ISVs [independent software vendors] and IHVs [independent hardware vendors] and we're not trying to do it all ourselves. There's a fundamental difference of perspective there.

And so the fact that they moved to Intel, I'm not sure that makes a lot of difference. We will, I'm sure, be judged by many people comparing us to Linux and to the Macintosh and who knows what else. That's what life is, and I hope we've done a good job and I hope customers like what we've done.

Q: In developing countries, you now offer a lower-cost "Starter" edition of Windows. What are Vista plans for the developing world?

A: We haven't announced the [product lineup], but you should expect us to continue on the same path that we're on. You should consider that we like what's happening in terms of the Starter world and we just think that we will continue on that same path.

Q: What's going to happen to the PC market in the next two or three years, after Vista is released?

A: I continue to see a healthy PC market, very healthy. The machines will continue to morph; you'll see smaller machines that have more capability.

I continue to see good growth in the mobile space; I expect to see PCs being the core driver in the home. And I mean that for entertainment along with the work-at-home space.

I expect to see more machines networked in the home, which is going to mean more sales, so I see a robust and very healthy industry.

If I had a personal dream, it's that the hardware industry in the PC space spends more time innovating in terms of the capabilities of the system, and that there's a wide variety to choose from, from low-end priced systems to very cool, sexy high-end machines for the people who have the budget to afford it and who have the desire for the extra features.

Q: How much will the experience of using Vista depend on subscribing to services — will users have to sign up for Windows Live (a Web service Microsoft is introducing)?

A: Windows Live is totally separate from Windows Vista.

Q: With all the security advances in Vista, will people not worry any more about computer security? Will that concern fade away over the next couple of years?

A: This is my dream, so I'll have to see if my dream comes true.

To some degree, when we did Windows 2000 and Windows XP, we worked on trying to take away the reliability stigma that PCs had.

By that I mean I don't think people even think about their machines having to be rebooted, not like they used to be in the old days.

It used to be very common to reboot your Windows 9x machine. I think we did a very good job there.

I hope we can do the same thing on safety and security with Windows Vista. ... We are going to do a huge change with Windows Vista on this, but it truly is something that isn't going to go away for a very long time. We are going to make it much less of an issue, but it's still going to have to be something that people are aware of

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

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