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"He asks tough questions and he has high standards," said Mike Sievert, the corporate vice president in charge of marketing Windows. Sievert said he gets, on average, four e-mails a week from Allchin containing suggestions of things that need to be better.
"He's very interested in how we're doing in managing the reputation of Windows," Sievert said. Not content to let others handle all the Vista marketing, Allchin took to blogging on an official company blog about the many virtues of Vista. This week, he added a post on just how much of the 2003 vision actually did make it into Vista.
On the development side, Allchin was even more enmeshed. In the final days before Microsoft declared Vista done, Allchin and his technical assistant spent long hours testing arcane scenarios to try to spot bugs that either the development teams or the servers running automated tests might have missed.
As part of those tests, "I'm doing video calls with my mom in Boston," Allchin said during those last harried days in November. "I'm doing remote assistance to jump into a machine, and then I 'remote desktop' from that machine to another machine."
Allchin was also pushing for changes up to the very last minute, arguing that if there were bugs to be fixed, they should be.
"(If) there's a fix, I want to put it in," Allchin maintained. "It should be clear that date means not much to me, that quality is much more important."
But after months of sleepless nights, Allchin is ready for a break. He has been vague about future plans, saying he might do some contract work for Microsoft, but that's still up in the air. What is clear is that the Allchin era at Microsoft is over.
Allchin is skipping the big gala launch of Vista in New York, opting to preside over an internal company event in Redmond on Tuesday. A day later he will finish up at Microsoft and the next day he's headed on vacation. "February 1, I'm going to go where it's warm, on a boat."
Vista may be Allchin's final legacy, but he will also be remembered for other key initiatives: helping move Microsoft from a desktop software company to a formidable player in the server space and passionate advocacy for client software even in an age of networked computers.
"He's Mr. Distributed Computing," said Tod Nielsen, who worked with Allchin for years at Microsoft and is now CEO of software maker Borland. "He fundamentally has a belief that's the best way computing should be done."
Allchin will also be remembered for his role in the landmark Microsoft antitrust trial, where he was grilled about a Microsoft video that appeared to have been doctored, using different PCs in different parts of the video.
"He got caught up in that sideshow with the video stuff," said Nielsen. "It was really unfortunate. Jim had nothing to do with it. His role was (saying), 'I want a video set up to show X, and that was it.'"
Inside Microsoft, a new guard is taking over Windows management. The overall unit is now headed by former sales chief Kevin Johnson, while development is being led by Steven Sinofsky, who came over last year from the Office business, where he built a reputation for shipping products consistently and on time.
Ballmer has made it clear he doesn't want Microsoft to ever go five years between Windows releases again. But in its quest for speed, Microsoft has to make sure not to forget those all important details, especially now that its toughest critic won't be there.
Sievert, the Windows marketing executive, said Sinofsky has a big legacy to uphold. "In many respects, it will be Steven's job (to make sure) that focus on experiences, security and quality gets carried on."
Behind the scenes for Vista
Photos from Redmond, where Microsoft is working hard to get the Windows update out of the door. November 8, 2006
Vista gets the shutter bug
The photo-importing wizard in Windows Vista has raised concerns. October 24, 2006
Security tweaks in Vista
Release Candidate 2 version lets people turn off feature. October 13, 2006
Power plans in Vista
Managing the drain on your laptop battery.June 2, 2006
Vista's got game
Taking advantage of 3D graphics and other features.March 21, 2006
Editors: Mike Ricciuti, Leslie Katz
Design: Andrew Ballagh
Production: Kristina Wood
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