Home Microsoft Reveals Its Windows 8 Development Teams But Won’t Explain Them

Microsoft Reveals Its Windows 8 Development Teams But Won’t Explain Them

A few weeks in advance of Microsoft’s first technical revelations about the structure of Windows 8, the company’s Windows group president Steven Sinofsky yesterday revealed the names of the new operating system’s various design committees in a post inaugurating the new “Building Windows 8” blog.

But given the opportunity today, the company declined all comment for ReadWriteWeb on what many of the committees’ names actually mean, or why certain groups appear to have been given autonomous assignments. It’s more than just a nomenclatural issue: With Windows 7, the group called “Color” ended up being the fundamental design group that helped redesign the Taskbar and introduce the jump list, two of Win7’s most appreciated features.

Wrote Sinofsky:

Windows is a fairly broad project made up of a set of coordinated smaller projects. When we started building Windows 8 we had a clear sense of the direction we were heading and so we built a team structure to support that direction. Many of the teams work together while at the same time we try to break the work down into fairly independent groups – obviously as a customer you want things to work together, but as an engineer, you also want to be able to work independently. That’s a fine balance we work to maintain.

Sinofsky’s explanation indicates that there’s sufficient reason for each committee or team to be autonomous from the others. It might therefore follow that a team established independently of a team devoted to user interface characteristics, like Win7’s “Color” team, would be working on something that is not, by definition, intrinsic to the UI. So it’s compelling that App Store should be one of the separate teams on Sinofsky’s list, separate from the Runtime Experience team and the User-Centered Experience team, either or both of which may be the counterpart of Win7’s “Color” team (unless “runtime” in this instance refers to the .NET Framework, another detail which Microsoft declined to explain today). ReadWriteWeb’s John Paul Titlow broke the news of the App Store team’s existence this morning.

Also enrolled as a separate development group are Media Platform and Applications and Media Experience. The separation of these two is also somewhat interesting. The Media Platform team can easily be expected to maintain the multimedia libraries and streaming capabilities of the operating system. But continuing to have a separate design team for media-related applications would run counter to independent speculation recently that Microsoft may be considering dropping, or has already decided to drop, Windows Media Center from the Win8 platform. Media Center (not Media Player) is the component that media PC users utilize to connect to cable TV systems and Web video outlets. Speculation about a possible drop came earlier this month after Dolby Technologies told a meeting of financial analysts that Dolby audio technologies would not be featured in Windows 8, as it had been in previous editions.

A continuation of Media Center without a de facto Dolby library in place could signal a shift in how Microsoft wants to handle DVDs. A few years ago, Microsoft was instrumental in the development of HD DVD technology, which lost out in the high-definition race against Blu-ray Disc. Former Microsoft analyst, now Business Insider editor Matt Rosoff speculated that “pushing the PC as a home entertainment device didn’t help Windows sales.” But if Microsoft is continuing with Media Center, as Sinofsky’s announcement indicates, then Windows 8 may de-emphasize movie disc playback capability, in favor of online video as well as Media Center’s DVR functionality.

One telling revelation from Sinofsky’s message is that none of these teams will be handling the types of focus groups that led to Windows 7’s design innovations. These tests will be taking place, Sinofsky said, although separately and without indication of to whom their results will be most relevant. “In addition to these teams made up of development, test, and program management, there are many others that are part of the product development team,” he wrote. “Our research and usability team creates field and lab studies that show how existing products and proposed features perform with all types of customers.”

The message for Windows 8 developers from Microsoft today is that there are now 35 silos of design and development teams contributing to various aspects of the operating system platform, some of which probably overlap. We can probably expect each team to have some public representative, who will communicate progress by way of blog posts (and maybe this time tweets as well), and perhaps take suggestions from third parties. But the sheer number of teams, coupled with the short time remaining to develop the product (probably by fall 2012), suggests that much of their work is actually already done.

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