Jim Allchin bet on the right man

Microsoft rewards Brian Valentine for his Win2000 efforts with a promotion and a major software milestone

At the weekly Windows 2000 development meetings held in a Microsoft cafeteria, the long-suffering attendees start off by chanting: "We read the [tabloid] The Weekly World News. Why? Because we have no life."

One of the loudest voices in the chorus is that of Brian Valentine, the head of Windows 2000 development, who at the start of this month was named head of Microsoft's newly minted Windows Division. Valentine reports directly to group VP Jim Allchin.

If all goes as planned, Valentine will be popping the cork on December 15, when Microsoft is counting on releasing Windows 2000 Build 2194 to manufacturing. At press time, the company had one critical bug to fix before it shipped the code. Its internal Windows 2000 Web site countdown page, as of press time, listed December 15 as the ship date, say sources.

Valentine was not available for comment. According to his PR handlers, he is a very busy man--too busy for even a five-minute interview.

But that doesn't stop others from talking about Valentine, whom company insiders and outsiders say was the perfect man to get Windows 2000 out the door.

Twelve-year Microsoft veteran Valentine took over the Windows 2000 development effort exactly one year ago this month. He replaced Moshe Dunie, the head of the NT 4.0 test team and Windows 98 development team during his 11-year Microsoft tenure.

Microsoft officials said Dunie took a voluntary sabbatical. However, company watchers say Dunie took the blame for Microsoft's failure to deliver the product, then known as Windows NT 5.0, a year or two ago.

Valentine, who is the former development head of Microsoft's application server division, as well as of the development team that built Exchange Server, was well-qualified to step in. While Dunie and Allchin regularly participated in stunts like cooking breakfast for the haggard Windows 2000 developers who found themselves chained to their desks on weekends and holidays, Valentine went one better by showing up in various costumes. Previously sagging morale jumped a notch.

Valentine also shook things up on the customer front. Sources say he played a key role in rethinking the way Microsoft conducted its Rapid Deployment Program, the software testing program that the company conducts in conjunction with its top-tier customers.

Valentine was part of the campaign to create a separate, very high-level Joint Deployment Program, or JDP, tier of Windows 2000 testers who would be less bound by onerous contractual terms, such as requiring a certain percentage of production servers to be running by a set date.

One integrator said Valentine's "contracts, schmontracts" approach was welcomed and sorely needed at a time that few believed Microsoft was going to deliver Windows 2000 even by the year 2000. Microsoft is in the midst of preparing an expansive launch for the product in San Francisco on February 17.

Still, Valentine's no pushover. According to an article on Microsoft's TechNet Web site, which was written by a Microsoft employee, Valentine sports on one wall of his office a "Big Dog" plaque, and on the other a "Bad Dog" one.

Indeed, Valentine is not universally loved. One integrator working with Microsoft products characterised Valentine as someone who has played internal politics well to get where he is and who has "no problems worshipping early and often at the altar of Billness [CEO Bill Gates]."

If Allchin and Valentine truly end up owning and managing all the Windows brands--from Windows CE (soon to be renamed "Windows-Powered") to Consumer Windows to Windows 2000--as expected, the big dog may not have to play junkyard dog for long.

In the meantime, Valentine's top goal is getting Win2000 to manufacturing this week and to customers on February 17.