Microsoft's worst run project: Windows 2000

Microsoft's worst run project: Windows 2000

Summary: Microsoft's Iain McDonald, director of project management for Windows Server, says the worst run project at the software giant was Windows 2000. That tidbit comes from an interview Mary Jo Foley just posted.


Microsoft's Iain McDonald, director of project management for Windows Server, says the worst run project at the software giant was Windows 2000.

That tidbit comes from an interview Mary Jo Foley just posted.

To folks that aren't familiar with the intricacies of Microsoft this revelation is a bit of a stunner. Was Windows 2000 really a worse run project than Vista, which had a do-over in the middle of the project? Windows ME? That couldn't have been so hot. When you ponder all of Microsoft's worst hits--and the projects behind them--Windows 2000 doesn't instantly register.  In fact, Ed Bott gave Windows 2000 a 9 on a 10 scale in his rating of Windows versions.

But who am I to argue with McDonald, who has served on a variety of Microsoft product teams.

Here's what McDonald had to say about Windows 2000:

I look back at all the travails of the past couple of years. But nothing was worse than Windows 2000. People outside are going and saying, “Vista this and Vista that.” But nothing was worse than Windows 2000. They just don’t remember. That was the worst-run project of all time.


We finished that project and I spoke to someone who said I worked 30 seven-day weeks this year. That was someone who worked for me. I knew I worked a lot more seven-day weeks than she did. It was dumb. You should never run a project like that. In the long run, there were some great things we did, but we also made some just fundamentally stupid decisions. Like the security one. Code Red in August 2000: It’s amazing how stupid that was in retrospect. We just didn’t know.

We did a lot of stuff. We wrote XP. And you know, XP was not all that well-received. I remember in November that year, when the first security vulnerability came up for it, I was on holiday in Australia. And I got a call from Brian (Valentine). He was whipping me. He said, this will be on the front page of the paper, you know.

We’ve gone through the equivalent amount of time with Vista and it hasn’t got any of those black eyes, which says to me, I think we’ve done pretty well with that.

I think security is a ten-year job. We started in 2002, so we’ve still got years to go on that.

Those last points are also notable. After all, I totally forgot that XP wasn't well received initially. Now we're hanging onto it instead of Vista. Meanwhile, mark your security calendars for 2012.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Security

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  • Project vs. Product

    Perhaps the project was poorly managed, but the result was a product that a *lot* of people still swear by. And really, Win2k still has 100% of the functionality many businesses (and some home users, even) need.
    • I totally agree

      I went [I]back from WinXP to 2000[/I] because of many reasons. Activation, pop-up hand-holding, and also with it's need for less horsepower, I could devote more computer power to the programs. Now it's on 5 computers in our office - the 6th couldn't handle it (it's stuck with Win98)

      Yeah, Win2k. Last good Windows.

      - Kc
    • Yeah... even I liked Win2K...

      but I still refuse to run Windows in my home, imagine that! ]:)
      Linux User 147560
    • I agree

      The problems with the NT 5.0 project were not secret, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I actually started running Windows 2000 (on the other hand, I thought that XP was a step backward). It may have been because it was so late that MS decided there was no longer any downside to getting it right before release, or it may have been that this was the very last version of Windows that wasn't developed to promote a particular MS initiative (XP came out of the .NET initiative, while Vista appears to be driven by the Trusted Computing Initiative), but regardless of the reason, I have long felt that Windows 2000 is the best Windows ever released by MS.

      My thanks to the development team that worked so hard to get it right (even it it was poorly managed).
      John L. Ries
    • Add a notch from me

      Too bad they decided to not fix the kernel's ACPI problems after the fact, or I'd still install it on brand new computers - because, truly, Windows 2000 was a masterpiece:
      - real, working, limited user accounts that didn't force you to run as administrator; if you installed your own applications (it was really bare anyway), you could use it with a Guest account without any problems;
      - the GUI was the epitome of performance and usability (for a Win32 OS), with nice little tricks all over the place: Motif-like yes, on steroids too, without being so different from previous Windows versions that you couldn't find your way back;
      - it could run on pretty much any hardware: I managed to install and use it on a machine with 32 Mb of RAM (of course, it worked better with 64 or 96 Mb), and it could also be ghosted and reinstalled on a radically different machine without batting an eye;
      - with the compatibility options added in SP2 and 3, you could run many applications from Win9x, and from WinXP too;
      - forget about WGA, or CPU count!

      It's only because neither Intel nor AMD provide CPU drivers for dynamic clock change for Win2000 that I was forced to leave it behind - I now strip down XP to make it 'just like 2k', at the cost of 10 Mb of RAM. And re-installation hassles.
      Mitch 74
  • Ah the good OLE days...

    My rep and I were just reminiscing over Windows 2000. I will never forget when I MANDATED all NT 4.0 servers upgrade to what was then Windows NT 5.0 Beta 1. My MCSEs worked 52 7 day weeks that year. It was like drinking out of a hose man. Everyday we found another nugget of information. Several hundred upgrades later, I stand LORD AND MASTER over a sea of Windows Server 2008 Beta 3 servers that serve up the latest and greatest to our internal users. What a long strange trip it's been but my rep and I are enjoying the ride.
    Mike Cox
  • Windows 2000

    This is most self-serving statement from anybody at Microsoft I ever read. If Windows 2000 is the worst run project at MS then howcome it is the best OS Microsoft ever put out. It's stability is unsurpassed. I have been running it on a used Gateway PII upgraded from Windows 98 for 5 (yes five) years with no downtime whatsoever.
    • Am sorry but windows 2003 is the best OS to come out of redmond.

      Window 2000 only looks good because windows 98 was so bad....
  • Perhaps that was MS's problem.

    If the end product is unsatisfactory, how can one claim that the project was "run better?" If management views "processes" as the primary metric for determining a project's success, as opposed to the end product produced - talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

    I can see a point in what McDonald is saying, but the fact remains one product was pretty satisfactory and one product is mediocre in comparison. If the negative project metric is too many long work weeks, tack another year to the Windows 2000 schedule to ease those - now is it "worst run?" Plus, understand why, under the Windows 2000 project, people were willing to put in the long hours whereas they would not do so for Vista. That's part of the project process too.

    It would explain why Vista is what it is. If someone actually views that as a more successful project, and those people are still in charge, then you can expect Windows 7 to come out around 2010 at the soonest...
    • Well, two problems

      First, no project is successful if staff schedules become inhumane. Second, security is good from release. Remember that he is pleased that Vista has passed its first months without a major problem.

      Bill Gates's memo about security being the highest priority probably had an effect on how project are evaluated. The cost of XP2, staff time and a 3 year delay in Vista per Mr. Allchin, was well rewarded with $ billions in new sales and reassurance to existing customers, but it did give Vista a PR problem.

      He's not in marketing, so I expect that the rate of Vista purchases, many more people spending more money than was true of XP, is probably sufficient to show product acceptance for him.

      On 2000, remember that's the one Microsoft product the company told people not to buy. The interface wasn't ready for home users; that was XP's role. Ironically, it's probably the limitations of that interface which make so many professionals so pleased with it.

      Microsoft has discovered that people wait for SP 1 before buying, sometimes as company policy, and SP 1 usually arrives after a year. So a new Windows version, even a very successful one like Vista, is not reaching its full sales potential until the second year. To me, that means a new version will have to wait for 3 or 4 years. We'll see if Microsoft is also thinking that way.

      Interesting to get a glimpse of how people inside Microsoft are thinking. Makes some decisions and company attitudes more understandable.
      Anton Philidor
  • Windows 2000 wasn't three years late.

    I'm getting more than a little annoyed with the ridiculous spin coming out of Microsoft these days. They seem to have developed a pathological aversion to honesty in Redmond.

    If Win 2K was so much more troubled in its infancy than Vista, how did they manage to get it out in Feb 2000 (the same year it was due) rather than three years later? And how many people do you know were actively downgrading Win 2K to Win 98 in 2000?

    Microsoft's newly paranoid secrecy about EVERYTHING and their newly-acquired habit of trying hard to convince us of blatantly obvious lies (e.g., "Vista more secure than OS X + Linux") makes me think there is something really, really wrong inside that company. Witness also the revolving doors on their executive suites and their inability even to get out a proper patch for the animated cursor vulnerability within 5 months or the promised add-ons for Vista Ultimate within half a year! And still we wait for the latter, with the explanation from MS that "we will not release the last two Extras until they meet the high quality bar required by our enthusiastic customers." *Gag*

    Why don't you press people challenge men like Mr. McDonald when they blow such obvious smoke in your face? The facts are available. Is it that difficult to look them up, or point them out to men like Mr. McDonald, or even discuss them in your articles? I can get Microsoft's press releases without Ziff Davis, thank you very much.
    • Errr, not exactly...

      The first betas for 'Windows NT 5' came out in mid-1997, for a planned release date of early 1998 - it was supposed to be Windows XP (not with that name), a merging of the 'home' (Win95, which had 4 releases) and the 'pro' (NT4) product lines.

      However, it soon became impossible to honor these goals and add features (ActiveDirectory): the date kept being pushed back, so we got:
      - Windows 98, which unified and defragmented the win95 code base (no more Plus! pack, addition of USB and AGP support, DirectX included, IE included, Media Player 6.4, FAT32 support)
      - Windows 2000, which was 'pro' only, making NT more accessible (device manager, search interface, MMC) and more media-ready (DirectX integrated in the system, real sound architecture, FAT32 support, Unicode support)

      Installing the two on the same machine usually yelded an impression of 'dual view': they were getting extremely similar, while still lakcing in 'killer features' (which were added in Me).

      All in all, Windows 2000 was an unscheduled product: it should have been XP right away, but it spawned 3 other products in the meantime: 98, 2000 (convergence) and Me (new features).
      Mitch 74
  • What about Microsoft Bob?

    Where does he rank Bob on the list of operating systems?

    Terry Thomas
    PC Tech
    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    • "Bob" wasn't an OS

      But a rather cheesy Program Manager replacement for Windows 3.11 and possibly Win 95. The project manager was Melinda French, now Melinda Gates. Proof that failure at MS isn't necessarily a career killer. ;)
      • And still lives on

        After all, isn't the dog that was in BOB still living on in search? All the charaters are still in office and the OS. Makes you wonder who really runs MS.