Wow. Rory Blyth left Microsoft.

Rory Blyth, the freakishly intelligent, yet freakishly… well… freakish blogger and creator of left Microsoft last September.  I didn’t even know.

Rory was a MSDN Events presenter and a Microsoft Developer Evangelist.  He used to present along the west coast, primarily in the Pacific Northwest, on topics like Windows Mobile development.  He later took a job in Redmond as a professional blogger and content creator for Channel 9, Microsoft’s developer outreach video blog and discussion board.

You can read about why he left and what he’s doing now, but suffice it to say that he felt an inordinate amount of pressure working at Microsoft and just felt that he didn’t want to deal with it any more due to the effect that it was having on his life.  I can sympathize.  The company – especially when you have to deal with politics – can be a real tough place to be at at times.

But I still love it.

I only have one story of Rory being that I only met him once a while back.  He was having a tizzy over Microsoft’s purported lack of development on Internet Explorer – us not having released a version past Internet Explorer 6.02 for a VERY long time.  I’d chatted with him briefly on the topic at one of our "tech trainings" up in Seattle… he didn’t linger much in the Washington State Convention Center much and I’d bumped into him in the escalators going up.

We were to hear from Steve Ballmer, our company CEO/President.  Steve is a pretty direct guy.  He’s for the most part an anti-politician when he talks to the troops.  He gives straight answers that, if you listen, he usually gives you a lot more insight into a matter than you’d get from public or even internal resources like email or Intranet web sites.

During Q&A, people were invited to come to the microphones and ask the executive staff questions.  Lo and behold Rory stood up and went to the podium, introduced himself, and proceeded to firmly press Steve on ‘why there was no improvement in IE for such a long time’.

So the $64 question was, why did IE go unrevised for so long.

Steve Ballmer explained that when we started development of what was called the "Longhorn Client", it was a very different animal.  Most people that were following "Longhorn" – even in the press – knew this to be true.  It was envisioned as a very different piece of software from what we have today in Windows Vista.  The codebase was to be completely new.  The operating system, while designed to provide backward compatibility, was radically different from the ground up – including the fact that all applications, including the administrative tools and accessories were to be developed using managed code, i.e. .NET Framework-based software, as opposed to binary Win32 applications as they are today. 

One of the elements of "Longhorn Client" was that the browser effectively ceased to exist.  Every single application (including Word, Acrobat, etc.) ran in the context of a window that could present HTML while looking identical to Win32 applications as they exist today.  In fact there would be nothing to distinguish between today’s Win32 applications and HTML/Web-based applications.  But web-based applications would be more than just HTML.  The key would be that web-based applications could take advantage of the rich set of services & application libraries in the Longhorn Client OS that could generate beautiful applications that far exceeded today’s lackluster "AJAX" experiences.  They would feature full motion video & top shelf animation and vector graphics, like you see in Flash apps.

In short, web applications would be first class citizens next to Windows binary applications.

But Jim Allchin – the head of our Operating System development at the time, after more than 2 years of development, turned to Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer and essentially said that it couldn’t be done.  According to Brian Valentine and the rest of the more famous NT/Windows architects, the concept that they were attempting to move from vision to reality was too complex and too difficult to manage.  Bill & Steve both asked him if there was any other thing that they could to salvage the effort including providing more time and Jim told them that they already tried and the conclusion was that even with another 2 years they didn’t think they could accomplish what they wanted to do with any level of stability or usability.

This hit Microsoft’s leadership like a hammer:  Very rarely in the history of the company had we met a challenge that we couldn’t overcome.  Bill & Steve made the tough decision to reset, salvage what they could, and start again, this time with an architecture that was a little less aggressive – what became "Windows Vista":  An operating system architecture closer to what exists in Windows XP, however with dramatic changes in security between components, as well as libraries for rich applications, and a mind for x64 hardware architecture… the same rich application concepts envisioned for the original "Longhorn Client".

But one of the things that had to be done is the reintroduction of the browser, a.k.a. Internet Explorer 7.0.  Browsing experience improvements were extracted from what was "Longhorn Client" but in the end, Internet Explorer 7.0 was marginally improved from an end user’s view but not tremendously.  Most of the changes that occurred related to stability & security – again, all inherited from "Longhorn Client" work.  This by the way is the reason Internet Explorer 7.0 was released relatively stably as well as having regular build releases in comparison to previous releases like 6.0 which took forever.

Well, Rory… when he asked the question… I assume was so full of passion & anger over the issue that he ended up effectively reiterating the question to Steve after he’d just answered it.  He kinda accused Microsoft of ‘slacking off’ in the browser development department and Steve responded… well… not very positively. 

Suffice it to say that Steve… uh… yelled.  This created near complete silence in a room of several thousand.  He firmly told Rory that he just explained the entire reason IE took as long as it did to ‘version’ and that it wasn’t a conscious decision on Microsoft’s part:  It was just fallout of what happened with regard to Windows Longhorn Client (and later Windows Vista) natural development.

Rory ended up sitting down and I didn’t hear anything after that.  Nor did he post anything about the incident on his blog. 

Never let it be said that Rory Blyth doesn’t know how to silence a room of Microsoft employees.

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