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October 25, 2001

Driving Windows XP to Market


Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times
Chris Jones, who led the team that designed Windows XP, joined Microsoft in 1989. Back then, he says, he was a Macintosh person.


audio  David Pogue on Windows XP

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Agence France-Presse
Bill Gates, chief of Microsoft, was joined by Bruce Chizen, chief of Adobe Systems and Derek Burney, chief of Corel, to announce the launch of Windows XP.

After his sophomore year at Stanford University, Chris Jones showed up at Microsoft for a summer job in 1989 and was escorted to an office with a personal computer running MS-DOS, the operating system that helped make Microsoft the dominant PC software company.

Mr. Jones sat down, turned on the machine and stared at the dark screen illuminated only by the MS- DOS command line, a cryptic C:\> that required the user to type in a series of programming commands to make the computer do anything useful.

"Oh my Lord," Mr. Jones said, recalling his reaction. "I had no idea what to do.

"I was a Mac person," he added, referring to the Apple Macintosh and its point-and-click system.

But Mr. Jones quickly mastered DOS and then Windows, Microsoft's operating system that mimicked the Macintosh graphical style of computing.

Today, Microsoft is introducing Windows XP, and it was Mr. Jones, now 32 and a vice president at the company, who led the 1,000-member corporate army that designed and built the new operating system.

For nearly two years, he stood between the marketing people, who typically want every possible feature included in Windows so as to appeal to the broadest possible market, and the software developers, who say the marketing wish list is impossible.

Mr. Jones was responsible for settling disputes and setting the course for Windows XP, giving him a great deal of influence over the look, feel and features of the software that will inevitably be used by hundreds of millions of people as their portal to computing and the Internet.

The job would only be given to someone with a proven track record and someone deemed to have the potential to be one of Microsoft's leaders. "Chris has the right stuff," said Brad Silverberg, a former senior executive at Microsoft. "He's one of the company's rising stars."

According to colleagues, Mr. Jones has the portfolio of talents necessary to succeed at Microsoft. He majored in mathematical and computational sciences at Stanford University and has done his share of programming. A bridge player and crossword puzzle addict, he said that programming "worked the way my mind worked, the logic of it, like math problem sets.

"It clicked with me, and just sucked me in," he added.

Mr. Jones may have been a DOS neophyte in 1989, but he got the summer job after being grilled by a Microsoft engineer on the intricacies of the 68000 assembly code the programming for the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, the chip that powered the Macintosh. He has the programming gene, vital to command respect in Microsoft's programmers' culture.

Colleagues say he is a good manager and leader, respected and fair, clear-thinking and able to communicate priorities.

"He makes sure the team is driving on asphalt instead of on mud," said Joe Belfiore, a senior member of the Windows XP group.

Belief and loyalty also count for a lot at Microsoft, and colleagues say Mr. Jones is "true blue Microsoft," smart, earnest and focused. His entire career has been spent at Microsoft.

Windows XP is regarded as the most significant improvement in Microsoft's industry-dominant operating system since 1995. It incorporates the more robust Windows 2000 code, developed for corporate desktop machines and data-serving computers, and machines running Windows XP crash less often. The XP is also designed to be easier to use. Experts who have reviewed the new operating system had applauded the efforts.

But it arrives on the market surrounded by controversy. Digital photography, music, online identification and the technology for a number of new Internet services are tightly bound to the operating system.

And Microsoft's critics say that Windows XP is part of Microsoft's drive to protect and broaden its monopoly, despite the fact that a federal appeals court has found that Microsoft repeatedly violated the nation's antitrust laws. Microsoft, the Justice Department and states that joined the suit are in settlement talks, but little progress has been made.

"XP is a new and improved operating system, but it is also part of the company's effort to further bias the future of computing and Internet commerce in Microsoft's favor," said Timothy Bresnahan, an economist at Stanford and a former senior official in the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Before Windows XP, Mr. Jones worked for four years on Microsoft's browsing software, Internet Explorer. The company's practices and tactics in the browser market are at the center of the antitrust case.

According to Microsoft, Windows XP is an effort to deliver a new generation of uses to PC users, as computing moves beyond handling numbers and text to images and music. So the operating system should deliver the technology to make handling digital photography and online music easier.

In that regard, Microsoft is following the direction Apple has been promoting for more than a year, as the next wave of consumer uses for the personal computer.

"Apple has done some very, very good work," Mr. Jones said. "It's nice to have innovation in the industry in a variety of different ways."

While some industry experts say the PC is a mature industry, Mr. Jones says the PC is ready for new waves of growth. He sees Windows XP as an important step in helping to make PC's more accessible and easier to use.

"We are in the stage in the PC industry as the auto industry was when you had to be an auto mechanic to drive a car," he said. "Now, we're starting to make PC's for ordinary drivers."

But Windows XP's leader concedes he still has a fondness for old DOS-style command line. And with a few keystrokes, the command line a visual anachronism appears on Windows XP. "It's still the fastest way to do things," Mr. Jones said.

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