Microsoft COO: Standing firm on Vista

Chief operating officer Kevin Turner is confident Microsoft's latest operating system is surging ahead and doing better than its predecessor.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
In spite of all the bad press Windows Vista has had to endure, Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner stands firm on his belief that the operating system is surging ahead and doing better than its predecessor.

Prior to his current stint as head of operations at Redmond, 42-year-old Turner spent 19 years in retail chain Wal-Mart, where he held various senior positions including chief information officer and chief executive of Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam's Warehouse.

In August 2005, he filled a spot that had been left vacant at Microsoft since 2002 when former COO Rick Belluzo left as part of a company reorganization.

In an email interview with ZDNet Asia, Turner underscored the company's confidence in Windows Vista, which he said hit "a milestone" in March when 140 million copies of the operating system were sold.

He stated that Vista is faring better than its predecessor, Windows XP, in terms of security, clocking in at fewer malwares and vulnerabilities.

Q: You spent 19 years in a company that uses technology [and was a customer of Microsoft], before joining a company widely known for the technology it sells. It would be three years in August since you began your COO tenure at Microsoft. What's the biggest change and challenge you've had to overcome and get accustomed to, having moved from a CIO to a COO position? And how have you 'tweaked' your mindset for the change in landscape?

A: There are more similarities than differences in the two companies. I am fortunate to be one of few people who have had the opportunity to work for two of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time: [Wal-Mart founder] Sam Walton and [Microsoft chairman] Bill Gates.

Both men have instilled similar values into their companies. One that has had a strong impact on me is having a sense of 'divine discontent' or, as we call it at Microsoft, being self-critical without getting de-motivated. This is one of our six company values and something we work very hard to maintain. We are constantly looking for ways to improve what we do, while at the same time staying motivated by the progress we have made.

Another aspect that resonates with me is that both businesses are about 'people'. Everything in business begins and ends with people, and how we treat our people and our customers will dictate how successful we are as a company. We can never lose sight of the fact that people are at the center of our software and our business.

Your job description includes responsibilities for product and customer support services/branding, advertising and PR, as well as internal IT that supports Microsoft's 78,000-plus employees. How do you balance these two job aspects, one where you have to evangelize your company's products, and the other that may require you to manage employee expectations of those same products?

This is one of the greatest benefits of my job. We believe we have the opportunity and responsibility to be our own first and best customer, and to really put our products through their paces.

Having responsibility for IT and sales helps me relate to our customers and partners better and really understand what it takes to deploy and maintain our products.

A recent study by Quocirca of C-level execs indicates 90 percent of companies outsource over 40 percent of their software codes. And while 78 percent of them recognize the importance of software development, 60 percent that do outsource coding work for their critical apps do not demand security to be built into the software. What are your thoughts on this, and how do you think a company like Microsoft can play a role?

Architecting applications to be safe and secure is one of our top priorities. Windows Vista is an example of this. We built Vista with security in mind right from the start.

We are one year out from launch and there have been less than half the vulnerabilities of XP SP2, and 60 percent less malware than XP SP2. Security is one of the top reasons customers are moving to Windows Vista.

Beyond Windows Vista, we are trying to lead by example in our other applications, as well as helping our community of software developers build applications with security in mind.

Applications should be secure by design. We will always have to address the evolution of software and the fact security threats are constant, but by building applications on a strong foundation, we can make things better in the long run.

During a conference in July 2006, you said: "Enterprise search is our business, it's our house and Google is not going to take that business." It's almost two years since then--is this still the core market you see Microsoft and Google compete in? And where do you think Google stands now in this market?

The IT industry has historically been defined by a series of periodic, transformative shifts in the way people think about computing, and we're in the midst of another: a services transformation.

With any of these transformative shifts, the prediction is that change will happen swiftly and completely. But the reality is quite the opposite. Customers want choice, and that is the foundation of our software-plus-services strategy. We are giving customers the choice of what they want to do with their data and infrastructure. If they want to run it on-site, we will support that. If customers want a partner to host a solution, we will support that as well. Finally, if a customer wants Microsoft to host a solution, as many have asked us to do, we can do that. Again, it is about giving customers a choice, which is a very different strategy than our competitors.

Vista clearly didn't exactly have a smooth ride leading up to its launch, with various delays, security fixes and longer-than-expected testing. Given a chance to, is there a one thing you would have done differently in the design, development and marketing of Vista? And where does SP1 play in the scheme of things?

We are very pleased with Windows Vista to date. We have currently sold over 140 million copies through to March. It was a milestone for us and the technology community.

Different customers adopt at different paces, and we are seeing more and more enterprise companies adopting at a faster rate of deployment compared to both Windows XP and Windows 2000. The list of enterprises moving forward on deployment is continually growing, and some of our largest customers are in the process of deploying, like Shell, Continental, Banco Brandesco, Infosys and Cerner.

SP1 also brings a number of changes that continue to improve the Windows Vista experience and with its availability, we believe more customers will move into the adoption phase.

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