Microsoft Big Brains: Terry Crowley

The All About Microsoft "Big Brains" series resumes with a Technical Fellow who also happens to be the Director of Development for Microsoft Office: Terry Crowley.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Just before retiring from day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft in 2008, 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. Slowly but surely, I'm making my way through the list. After a hiatus this summer, the series is resuming.

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': Terry Crowley Claim to Fame: Director of Development for Microsoft Office, How Long You've Been With Microsoft: 12 years More About You: Joined Microsoft as part of the Vermeer (FrontPage) acquisition. Has held a number of posts at Microsoft, including Group Development Manager for Office Authoring Services (Word/OneNote/Publisher/Text Services); and development lead for FrontPage HTML editor. Your Biggest Accomplishment (So Far) at Microsoft: Being able to bring Rich Internet Application (RIA) ideas and concepts to Office Team(s) You Also Work With: Windows, Windows Live Why Stay at Microsoft? "I have the ability to build products that are being used by half a billion people. It's an amazing opportunity and responsibility."

When I think of Microsoft Office, I don't think of it -- or any of its component parts -- as being Rich Internet Appliations (RIAs). But Microsoft Tech Fellow and Director of Development for Office Terry Crowley begs to differ.

"I've been building RIAs for over 25 years, starting when I was at BBN Labs," Crowley says.

If RIA means complex multimedia apps, Office technically qualifies. Crowley talks about Office bringing applications to the Internet with high latency.  Sometimes Office apps are connected and other times disconnected.

"Outlook, OneNote -- the model is online/offline. There's an 'always cached' mode to help when connecting to remote resources," Crowley points out.

Crowley has helped build all kinds of applications during his tech career, ranging from word processors, to spreadsheets, to e-mail, to real-time conferencing systems. He says that wide background has helped him interact with a wide variety of teams and individuals with different jobs across the company.

In his current role as Office development director, Crowley says his job is to "drive the (Office) project." He oversees the setting of milestones and evaluates how the team is progressing against those milestones. He also is responsible for how Microsoft develops Office -- how teams check in code, etc. All of these processes were forged under the former head of engineering for Office, Steven Sinofsky, who, in turn, has brought those methodologies to the Windows team, which he currently runs in his role as President, Crowley says.

The Office team is currently enmeshed (no pun intended) in building and finessing Office 2010, Office Web Apps and Office Mobile 2010. Office 2010 and Office Web Apps are expected to launch in May/June 2010 and a public beta of these two suites is expected in November 2009.

Going forward, the Office team's processes and development work is likely to get even more complex.

"From a technical standpoint, there's a lot of variability in the environment (where Office runs), and it's going to get even more variable," Crowley acknowledges. Will Office be running on a netbook? On a 64-bit core? On a wall-sized display? A four-inch touch-screen device?

"You need to write software that can span that set of technological underpinnings," he says. "How do we write software that can scale in that fashion? There are lots of great challenges there."

Compared to 25 years ago, "we have supercomputers on our desks, and we need to be clever about how to write software and tools" to take advantage of them, Crowley says.

But in typical Microsoft Office button-down fashion, he's not willing to say anything more specific. So whatever Crowley and his team is already planning for Office 15 and beyond is still a mystery -- for now.

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

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