06 February 2007

10 Years of MacBU

Today we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Macintosh Business Unit here at Microsoft. I was there when the Business Unit was created, so I thought I'd share some of my memories about that time, way back when.

When I was first hired as a contractor to help test, I was actually hired by an old QuickTime/Newton engineer that had left Apple to work at Microsoft in the Word team. Microsoft was just "getting" the Internet and one of the several efforts underway was to create an add-in for Word that would allow you to create, read and browse the internet, in Word no less! I know that sounds laughable today, but back then web pages were much simpler and it kind of made sense that Word would be a good place to create web pages. Well, the add-in was named "Internet Assistant of Word" and I was in-charge of testing the HTML input/output of with this plugin installed on the Mac. I had loads of Mac experience, but little experience with HTML apart from building my own pages in Adobe's PageMill (!), so I dove in, learned a bunch and tried to ferret out all the bugs.

While I was working on the Mac version of Internet Assistant for Word, my manager kept meeting with others around Microsoft evangelizing the need for a specially purposed Mac Unit that would just focus on the Mac software. He was by no means the only person pushing for this change, but when it did happen, he got to be a part of the new team as Test Manager and I joined the newly formed MacBU with him.

Back then, our automation system consisted of (don't laugh) XLM scripts that would drive Excel through test scenarios! Excel was really the only team that had lots of automation and they had a whopping 20 or so machines set aside to run these tests. Naturally I landed in the Excel team, but my task was to develop automated performance tests for Excel.

The day the MacBU was formed, we met in a large conference room near the old Microsoft Library. This building has since been replaced by bigger buildings, but I remember standing in the large auditorium in the back, standing room only, as folks explained the change and why it would be a "good thing."

Much has happened since that meeting and I dare say, that creating the MacBU at that time was a very aggressive decision. Back then we had a majority of Windows developers, writing code like crazy to build a Windows product, and then finally ship it, only then to work on the Mac product. This produced sub-optimal results.

After the MacBU was created, we moved to a place where our developers and testers were not required to do the Mac thing, but got to choose which product to work on. (Yeah, when the MacBU was created, lots of folks were forced to be on the Mac side and didn't want to, but over time that quickly filtered out.) The option to work on your platform of choice set us up to hire more Mac talent, and that was a very, VERY good thing. Soon after we would fork the code base, move to different ship cycles, eventually move to CodeWarrior, then Mac OS X 10.0, on which we were the first big company to get on the new platform! Yeah, our quality wasn't the greatest, but at least we didn't get called "laggards" by Jobs in his keynote! :-P My goodness, we were the default OS web browser and email client! We started the pin-striping with IE! Okay, so maybe we don't mention the pin-striping, I'm just saying...

Now, we've got a growing business, a super talented and focused Mac team that "gets it" when it comes to the Mac experience. From a industry level, when MacBU was created, everyone was saying, "Write once, deploy everywhere." and in a way, there's some of that still with the "web as a platform" being pushed today. The creation of the MacBU flew in the face of all that and said, if you want to be excellent on the platform, you've got to treat it seprately, not as an afterthought. All throughout the industry, I believe the MacBU has given other large companies permission to consider the question, "Should we have a dedicated Mac team just to focus on the Mac stuff?" I think that has had a more postitive effect on the overal state of Mac software from large companies than all the new Cocoa APIs, as much as I love them.

All these years later, it's hard to argue with the majority of users that see Mac Office as a must have set of tools for their work. The challenges of the Office 2008 product cycle continues to amaze and frankly, I don't think Apple could throw any more required changes at us! We are setting the stage for some fast action innovation and delivery that I think is going to make folks sing, not just for Office 2008, but beyond. The conspiracy theorist and MS haters will continue their diatribes, but the rational-rest of Mac users will continue to kick butt using our software. I love it, because in the end that's what it's all about.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, I love to be able to look back and see how decisions were made, and how they changed a whole industry.
Congrats on the anniversary, keep up the great work.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you blogging again! I was hoping that you wouldn't stop. The articles you are excellent!

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The MAC BU has come a long way and while I have been a consistent customer, the next release is the end of the road for me and I won't be buying it. Their decision to not support VBA (meaning macros are finished), their delayed support for MOOXML (which I'll bet will be crippled since MOOXML can include WIndows binary data), unclear (from what I can tell) support for ODF are insurmountable barriers to my migration. I think it must be the designs of their parent company.

I'll be running Vista and Office 2007 in Parallels instead buying Mac Office goign forward. I feel sad about that--like euthanizing a dear beloved pet but the MacBU gave me no choice when they crippled interoperability--a key requirement for an Office app on the Mac. I feel sad.

Unknown said...

"Internet Assistant for Word" -- gosh, you just took me way back to 96 when I was in college.

I remember it being a "separate call-Microsoft-and-they'll-mail-you-a-copy" thing, this being the days before high speed downloads and all.

I do miss the IE 3.01 / IE 4 days, though. Competition breeds better apps in my humble opinion...

Then again, in 96 we had PointCast, too -- right?

Oh well. Congrats on 10 wonderful years!