Keeping Microsoft in the frame

Kevin Johnson has two huge tasks: Chase Google with Windows Live and get the operating system back on track.

As if chasing Google wasn't a big enough challenge, Microsoft executive Kevin Johnson also has to get the Windows unit back on track in his spare time.

In last year's reorganization, Microsoft's former sales chief was promoted to head a business unit that includes desktop and server versions of Windows, as well as Microsoft's online services efforts under the MSN and Windows Live brands.

In that role, Johnson has to work to get Vista out the door without any further delays and at the same time help reshape the unit into a more nimble one that can release products far more often than it has in its recent history. On the services side, meanwhile, Johnson is faced with trying to overhaul MSN yet again, this time transforming it into an ad-funded effort that can compete with the myriad online offerings from Google, Yahoo and others.

Johnson took some time Wednesday to speak with CNET on a variety of topics, including how he splits his time, how to get the Windows team to release products more often, and how Microsoft plans to pitch services to large companies.

Q: You're in charge of Windows and Windows Live, two of Microsoft's most important businesses. That's a big task. How are you splitting your time?
Johnson: Yeah, there's really three business groups that I have accountability for: the Windows client business group, the Windows Live/MSN business group, and our server and tools business. Collectively, those three businesses represent a significant portion of the company's revenue and opportunity for growth.

Fundamentally, there are four priorities that I have. No. 1 is services. How we lay the foundation for the future growth of the company, and the future value that we can deliver through software plus services.

No. 2 is growth. That's a combination of how we grow the core, how we're expanding into these adjacent markets, and how we're laying the foundation for this online advertising world.

No. 3 is about agility. Fundamentally, how we are driving more agility into our R&D processes, with special emphasis on Windows. How we're focused on shipping Windows Vista, but also how we're going to drive more agility in the Windows business.

And then the fourth is around people and the work to ensure we continue to make this a great place for technical talent to come contribute and grow in their careers, and be challenged and motivated.

Following up on that third priority, Windows has become a huge project that's very difficult to update. Have you gained any insight into the keys to making it something that can be updated more regularly?
Johnson: Certainly, (it's) the way that we look at the Windows product, (separating) the core OS components from the application experiences.

An example would be Media Center Edition. Our Media Center technology has been able to evolve, and we've released new versions of Media Center every year for the last three years. That's able to run at different clock speed than the core OS.

So (we're) continuing to focus on how we architect the products, so that we can have a layering effect from the core OS to these application experiences, and we can run those at different clock speeds.

Then, I think, looking at Windows Live as a vehicle of releasing software as a service over the Internet--that also gives us an opportunity to even further accelerate some of those user experiences that are a combination of software that's part of Windows and the services that come through Windows Live.

I think third is Steven (Sinofsky) is going to happen in January?
Johnson: We've got the project plan in place that we announced, and I stay very connected with the team. Once a month, I sit down with them, and we go through all the project updates?Every week I sit down with the key set of the technical leaders and look at how we're progressing.

We're pleased with the progress we're making, but I focus on one milestone at a time, and right now, we're focused on Beta 2.

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