091. Cleaning Up Longhorn and Vista
“Windows Ultimate Extras are programs, services, and premium content for Windows Vista™ Ultimate. These features are available only to those who own a copy of Windows Vista™ Ultimate.” —box copy
Whenever you take on a new role you hope that you can just move forward and start work on what comes next without looking back. No job transition is really like that. In my case, even though I had spent six months “transitioning” while Windows Vista went from beta to release, and then even went to Brazil to launch Windows Vista, my brain was firmly in Windows 7. I wanted to spend little, really no, time on Windows Vista. That wasn’t entirely possible because parts of our team would be producing security and bug fixes at a high rate and continuing to work with OEMs on getting Vista to market. Then, as was inevitable, I was forced to confront the ghosts of Windows Vista and even Longhorn. In particular, there was a key aspect of Windows Vista that was heavily marketed but had no product plan and there was a tail of Longhorn technologies that needed to be brought to resolution.
Back to 090. I’m a Mac
Early in my tenure, I received an escalation (!) to “fund” Windows Ultimate Extras. I had never funded anything before via a request to fund so this itself was new, and as for the escalation. . . I had only a vague idea what Ultimate Extras were, even though I had recently returned from the Windows launch event in Brazil where I was tasked with emphasizing them as part of the rollout. The request was deemed urgent by marketing, so I met with the team, even though in my head Vista was in the rearview mirror and I had transitioned to making sure servicing the release was on track, not finishing the product.
The Windows Vista Ultimate SKU was the highest priced version of Windows, aimed primarily at Windows enthusiasts and hobbyists because it had all the features of Vista, those for consumers, business, and enterprise. The idea of Ultimate Extras was to “deliver additional features for Vista via downloadable updates over time.” At launch, these were explained to customers as “cutting-edge features” and “innovative services.” The tech enthusiasts who opted for Ultimate, for a bunch of features that they probably wouldn’t need as individuals, would be rewarded with these extra features over time. The idea was like the Windows 95 Plus! product, but that was an add-on product available at retail with Windows 95.
There was a problem, though, as I would learn. There was no product plan and no development team. The Extras didn’t exist. There was an Ultimate Extras PUM, but the efforts were to be funded by using cash or somehow finding or conjuring code. This team had gotten ahead of itself. No one seemed to be aware of this and the Extras PUM didn’t seem to think this was an issue.
As the new person, this problem terrified me. We shipped and charged for the product. To my eyes the promise, or obligation if one prefers, seemed unbounded. These were in theory our favorite customers.
The team presented what amounted to a brainstorm of what they could potentially do. There were ideas for games, utilities, and so on. None of them sounded bad, but none of them sounded particularly Ultimate, and worse: None existed.