Programming Windows: Mark Russinovich Interview (Premium)

In January 2010, I visited the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, and interviewed Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich about Windows 7.

As you may know, Russinovich was one of the earliest contributing editors to Windows NT Magazine, where he wrote about the Windows architecture from his perspective as a consultant and trainer who specialized in ripping into the Windows kernel. Russinovich first came onto Microsoft’s radar with his notorious revelation in the November 1996 issue that Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server---which Microsoft sold with different licenses and portrayed as being capable of handling different workloads---had the same code base.

“Microsoft doesn't want you to read this article,” he wrote in that article. “At the kernel level, NT Server and NT Workstation are the same, and only a Registry key or two determines which is which. Just think about the implications.”

In 1996, Russinovich started Winternals Software, which produced systems recovery and diagnostic tools, including Winternals Administrator’s Pak, Protection Manager, Defrag Manager, and Recovery Manager. Microsoft acquired Winternals and Sysinternals (which offered free tools such as Filemon, Regmon and Process Explorer) in 2006, bringing Russinovich and business partner Bryce Cogswell on board. At the time of this interview, Russinovich was on the Windows core architecture team, which advised design teams as they brought the next versions of Windows to market. Today, he is the CTO of Microsoft Azure.

Paul Thurrott: How do you look at Windows 7 from an architectural or foundational standpoint? How did Microsoft decide what was going to make Windows Vista into Windows 7?

Mark Russinovich: Windows Vista was very ambitious in a lot of different areas. It overreached in some areas, and there were features that were miscalculated. Example: What was that feature that you could walk up to someone's laptop with your laptop and share things?

Paul: Right, Meeting Space. It was this feature that no one understood. There was no click: "Well, it's for peer-to-peer networking. You can go to a coffee shop." And I thought, OK. I don't think anyone will ever use it.

Mark: Windows 7 picked up where the Vista reset left off. We tried to be a lot more realistic about what could be done given the time frame that was set for the release. So with Vista, we were going after technology, going after features, and we'd figure out later when they all lined up into a point where we could release a product.

The Windows 7 release was: "OK, we’ve got three years, let's figure out what can fit in those three years and try to be as realistic and accurate as possible with our predictions." Things were mispredicted, and things did get cut along the way. But it was on a much smaller scale. There was a big emphasis on the complete end-to-end scenario, so that this technology isn't just interesting from a technology perspective, but it's got to ...

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