Microsoft Big Brains: Mark Russinovich

Microsoft Big Brains: Mark Russinovich

Summary: The Microsoft Big Brains Series continues. This week's profile is of Mark Russinovich, known as one of the foremost experts on Windows inside or outside of Microsoft... and someone who is key to the evolution of Microsoft's core OS platform.


Just before retiring from day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft, Chairman Bill Gates said that he expected Microsoft's 22 Technical Fellows to get a lot more publicly visible -- now that they wouldn't be living in his shadow. While some of the Microsoft fellows already have been active on the public-speaking circuit, many of them are not widely known outside the company.

Last year I launched this series -- "Microsoft Big Brains" -- to help remedy that shortcoming. In the coming weeks, I am hoping to profile as many of the company's tech fellows as to whom I can get access.

Microsoft's Technical Fellows came to the company via a variety of different routes. Some of them run divisions inside the company; some focus on particularly thorny technical issues that may span a variety of product units. Regardless of where they sit in the organization, the fellows all have been charged with helping Microsoft craft its next-gen products and strategies, much the way that Gates used his regular "Think Weeks" to prioritize what Microsoft needed to do next.

This Week's 'Big Brain': Mark Russinovich Claim to Fame: "I've influenced Windows 7 and Server, but not yet had the time to influence the tech direction." How Long You've Been With Microsoft: 2.5 years More About You: One of the foremost experts -- inside or outside Microsoft -- on the inner workings of Windows. Cofounder (in 1996) of Winternals Software  -- a company which Microsoft acquired in 2006. Also cofounded, for which he's written dozens of Windows utilities, including Filemon, Regmon, Process Explorer, Rootkit Revealer and more. Prior to that, was a resarcher at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center, specializing in operating-system support for Web-server acceleration. Your Biggest Accomplishment (So Far) at Microsoft: "I have started discussions across groups (at Microsoft) about coordinating more on Windows." Team(s) You Also Work With: Developer Division, Windows Mobile, Windows Server, Windows Experience Division (WEX) Why Stay at Microsoft? Russinovich said he's been tinkering with things like how to disassemble ROM since the ninth grade. His whole background and focus is operating systems. Windows "is the most important operating system -- it has the biggest impact." And the best way to help influence its direction is to be at Microsoft, he said.

Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich knows Windows. And since joining Microsoft, he's made it his business to help herd the cats inside the company who have anything to do with Windows' development and futures.

Russinovich currently reports to Jon DeVaan, the head of Microsoft's Core Operating Systems Division. He is more of an "individual contributor" tech fellow than one who leads teams. He does a lot of speaking, blogging, article and code writing, rather than managing. (In all his "free time," he's working on the fifth edition of Windows Internals, due out in May 2009.

Russinovich takes pride in being part of a core group of senior architects at the company working on architectural best practices. The group is working on an architectural "constitution" which outlines the layers in Windows (along with the functionality in each layer) and guidance on application-programming interface (API) design.

"We ask teams to come in and make sure there's no overlap -- to make sure we're not duplicating things," Russinovich explained.

Russinovich characterized his role as helping to facilitate "dialog and cross divisional cooperation" around Windows. I asked for further details as to what this involves and how it will show up in future Windows releases, but he said he was unable to share more because the particulars are NDA.

(Russinovich is said to be the leader of the still-unannounced Microsoft MinSafe project, which is considered by some of my sources to be a milestone on the way to Midori, an incubation project that could ultimately become Microsoft's next-generation distributed, multicore operating system.)

What can Russinovich discuss, in terms of his near- and longer-term hot buttons?

He is involved in the development of MinWin, the Windows core that is part of Windows 7 (and will be in future iterations of Windows). He is always thinking about Windows' evolution, he said. And he's continuing to work on the Windows Sysinternals tools, both in terms of enhancing existing utilities and creating new ones, like a new memory footprint analysis tool for developers that he's been working on. (Russinovich called his Sysinternals work "a hobby" for him.)

"There's a lot of work to do in the Windows 8 timeframe," Russinovich said. "We're thinking now about what steps we should be taking."

For all of the “Microsoft Big Brains” profiles, check out the Big Brains page.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Windows 8 major NT Revision coming?

    He mentions major work for Windows 8. Is this suggesting another case of disruption again? What about Microsoft's position on making application hard code checks be within the 6.1 or higher 6.x range? If this is the case, I hope every SKU will include a copy of MDOP.
    Mr. Dee
  • RE: Microsoft Big Brains: Mark Russinovich

    Good article! Mark Russinovich is crazy smart when it comes to Windows. He's made some of the best troubleshooting tools ever invented. I hope we see some of them incorporated into Windows.
    Loverock Davidson
    • "Incorporating trouble shooting tools in Windows"?

      Why not program such that these troubles do not happen in the first place? Then there's no need to "include trouble shooting tools in Windows".

      • Yeah!

        and then we can build a car that never breaks down or needs gas, and after that we can make a fridge that's always full.

        And while we're dreaming of impossibilities, can I have a fleet of jets please?
  • MS wastes another big brain

    Your Biggest Accomplishment (So Far) at Microsoft: ?I have
    started discussions across groups (at Microsoft) about
    coordinating more on Windows.?

    He actually lists as his Biggest Accomplishment at Microsoft
    starting discussions across groups. Great company;-)

    MS share price update:
    15.15 USD (or 1 May 1997)
    Richard Flude
    • Flude?

      Get a life. Read the article.

      By the way, FWIW:

      Google share price update:
      $290.89 (or June 25, 2005 - minus a few bucks)

    • Many geniuses at Microsoft :-)

      Maybe other Big Brains at Microsoft brew coffee, cleaning Microsoft,
      cleaning virus infested PCs, fetching food for Ballmer,...............

      I got a good laugh out of this article. Thanks. :-)
  • brain the size of a planet

    'nuf said really
    • I do believe you've nailed it.

      Seems about right.
  • TAP

    How does a consumer get into the Technology Adoption Program (TAP)? I've got so much feedback to give on how Windows Vista and 7 could have been improved with some little realised killer XP features that were lost in the transition, but I'm not even part of the technical beta.
    • TAP is for larger MS partners, but may not influence any more an individual

      Microsoft is a massive spider web of groups who compartmentalize customers. It has so many customers, product groups, and customer programs that it takes years to master.

      As an individual, get aligned with your local user groups, post on the numerous MS forums, go to conferences and get some MS business cards, blog frequently, and get MS certified.

      Don't give up - once Microsoft starts to listen, they're a great company to work with as a vendor. Based on my experience, they really do roll out the red carpet if you have good ideas.

  • It is still insecure....

    I don't care what you call it, I think Conficker said it best.

    • this is how smart you are comparing to Mark:

      *Patched last October*
  • so M$ hired an actor

    I did not know that M$ hired Keanu Reeve to act as a big brain ( more likely big head) to confuse users about how cool windoze is.
    Linux Geek
    • Ah, keep up that hate LinuxTroll!

      It makes my week all the better to feel your
    • your continual assault on the credibility of Linux

      must be a comfort to MS fans. What does it say when the competition is reduced to blatantly childish insults? Hey, the ABM consortium called and they said thanks but could you STFU LG. This idiot troll and that other one, it_wk, cointelpro for MS, effectively yes? keep em coming guys
    • Keanu Reeve or Hans Reiser

      I'll stick with an admittedly bad actor over a murderer any day.

      You just prove with every post that your average Linux user is an angry psychotic nutjob.

      Linux - Who do you want to murder today?
      Phil Spector
      • love Linux but...

        I love Linux and use Fedora/Ubuntu as my primary OS, but I hate the annoying Linux cult, especially those who think that trolling around and trashing MS is a good way to serve their god. It wouldn't be a story about MS without some Linux fanboy trying to start a flame war.
  • message deleted

  • Great interview Microsoft was wise when they hired him

    his utilities are the best, and MS kept them alive and allowed them to stay free. They deserve credit for not spoiling a good thing, something Google could learn.