Interview: Flessner on Microsoft's product road map

Paul Flessner, senior vice president of the Windows Server System division at Microsoft, laid out a product road map in his keynote address this week at the TechEd 2003 conference. He later discussed delays in the release of SQL Server and discussed the company's product direction during an interview with Computerworld. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q:You showed a slide that referenced the Windows release code-named Longhorn in 2005 and "Windows Server vNext" in "2006+." What's the story with vNext?

No code name.

Q: It could be Longhorn, or it could be its successor, code-named Blackcomb?

We're still sorting through what we're going to do. The server team has just spun off of (Windows Server) 2003, and we don't expect another server release for three years. It's taking us three years to do these things now, and we're going to have value off cycle.

Q: So the server release could have the Longhorn kernel or it could have the Blackcomb kernel?

It'll be a kernel. The code names don't mean anything. They kind of blur together. Whatever we do, we'll have Longhorn changes in it. And whether we call it Longhorn or Blackcomb is kind of irrelevant at this point.

Q: To summarize, you're saying that the client operating system and the server operating system won't come out at the same time, and the server code name is undetermined.

Yes. And they may decide, 'Hey look, we want to ship something with the client because we need some feature in the server.' So I wouldn't rule that out. I think the team needs a little time to sort through it.

Q: Microsoft recently introduced a new name for its enterprise server software -- the Windows Server System. How do you feel about the new name? Were you involved in that decision?

Oh yeah. A long, painful process. Names are the worst, just the worst. So emotional. We were going to go with a creative name, which was so counter-Microsoft. In the end, we just couldn't pull the trigger. ... I wasn't crazy about it. I like this much better.

Q: Your division will be making a $1.7 billion investment in research and development during Microsoft's next fiscal year, which starts on July 1. How much was spent last year?

We're about flat year to year. Microsoft does $5 billion of R&D a year. I (was at) $1.7 (billion) last year and (will be) going forward in the next fiscal year as well. We've upped our investment in the community (for IT professionals and developers to) $450 million. We want to push on our IT pro community in the same way we've done for our developer community.

Q: Is that the only change in the way your division will be spending its R&D money?

There are lots of changes. We're making a big investment in management. We continue to make big investments across the three stacks -- (operations, application and information worker infrastructure) -- and we're going to continue to push hard in those spaces. Security (is) a continued big investment, and you'll continue to see and hear news throughout the year on that.

Q: If the pie is being divided differently, in what areas will there be a reduction?

Some of the quality initiatives that we've put forth are helping us in terms of our total cost of maintenance of our systems, which is an R&D effort. We have made some decisions about cutting back on some of the legacy pieces -- older (application programming interfaces) and things of that nature to focus more on the framework. I think overall we're just getting more leverage from the suite moves, the e-business team and the systems management work that we're pulling together.

Q: Will your division have some sort of suite of collaboration products to clarify some of the confusion that exists there?

They're calling it the Office System, and it includes the (information worker) servers, so SharePoint Portal Server. ... Windows Server System is the foundation and platform for Office System. And there are a couple of products that are cross-branded, which is a little confusing but at the same time understandable if you think about the interplay.

Q: Where does Exchange Server fit in?

Some customers think of it as infrastructure. Messaging is like a dial tone today. So it's something that is kind of on the cusp, and we'll probably do the right thing over time as we sort out the feedback from customers.

Q: Have you gotten much feedback?

Not really. It's too early. We're just really getting Windows Server System out. I think we probably have some more sorting out to do.

Q: Will there be greater integration of products?

We care deeply about the integration, and the Windows Server System is absolutely committed to integration, and that includes SharePoint Portal Services and the other servers. That's certainly important. ... I think you'll see Exchange working closely with SharePoint Portal Server. You'll see SharePoint continue to work closely with (Content Management Server) in the portal strategy, and we're cleaning our positioning up around that.

Q: When will Microsoft's management products come together as an integrated product?

System Center will be a suite initially, which will just be a bundling of (Systems Management Server) and (Microsoft Operations Manager). The system integration? It's going to take some time. Right now, it's on the planning horizon of 2006. We have a huge amount of ambition in this space. This Dynamic Systems Initiative and the SDM (System Definition Model) services deployment model are something that we are very excited about. I think the whole management space has lacked a vision in the industry, and we really are going to work hard on pushing systems and end-to-end application management deeper into the system so that you really can speed applications, not just machines.

Q: What are the first deliverables we're going to see?

Automated Deployment Services. And that's just the ability to instantiate a machine with the configuration that you want. And then you'll see SDM come out later. I don't have a time frame on that yet. It may come out in pieces because it's a complicated set of interplay between the tools team and also the Windows team and also the applications, like SQL and others, that need to implement to it. So that will take some time. But we're making a huge investment. We've just made some key hires around this space, and we're going to continue to push it.

Q: Exchange Server 2000 doesn't run on Windows Server 2003. What's your thinking on that?

I was heavily involved in that decision. First of all, it does cooperate in terms of the domain. You can put a Windows Server 2003 and an Exchange Server 2003 in a domain with Exchange 2000 and they do work together. Once we did that, the customer base said, 'OK, fine..., you've given us that upgrade path.' So we were careful on that. And SQL Server will certainly support Windows 2000 in addition to Windows Server 2003.

Q: What's your general philosophy on that?

N minus 1 -- so the current release minus one. This was a break in that (with Exchange), and it was done for a specific set of reasons, mostly around security. (Windows Server) 2003 is our most secure environment. Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 went through a security push together, and I'd like to keep that married.

Q: What's up with the first release of Jupiter?

The team called the first release BizTalk Server 2004, and I think that's a bit of a stretch to call that Jupiter, but they wanted to do it.

Q: When will you achieve the vision of the fully integrated BizTalk Server, Content Management Server and Commerce Server?


Q: A new release of the Visual Studio .Net development tools just came out in April. You mentioned that Whidbey, the code name for the next release of the Visual Studio development tools, is due in 2004. And you also referenced its successor, code-named Orcas, which you said is due in 2005. Why are there so many releases?

They're a big shared component now, and when you've got a big shared component, you do kind of become tied to the big dogs, and the big dogs are SQL Server and Windows Server, Exchange probably, too.

Q: So the Visual Studio releases aren't merely tied to operating system releases, and there's a feeling there's a need for continual tweaks?

Over time, they will be more tied to the operating system. Once we get the runtime into SQL Server, we'll just go with whatever is shipping at the time. I doubt SQL Server will need a lot of change in the runtime going forward.

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