Sinofsky on IE9, Windows Live, and more (Q&A)

The head of Microsoft's Windows unit, Steven Sinofsky, talks to CNET about how the new browser and updated online services fit into the broader Windows strategy.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read

SAN FRANCISCO--Although he wasn't on stage for the launch of the Internet Explorer 9 beta yesterday, Windows unit president Steven Sinofsky was paying close attention to the product's release and to initial public reaction.

It's a sign of just how important the browser has become to the overall success of Windows. By any measure--and Microsoft does plenty of research--Web browsing is one of the main things that people do with their computers. Although Internet Explorer still is the most used browser, it has been ceding share in recent years to Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers.

Steven Sinofsky Microsoft

In a brief interview at the IE9 event, Sinofsky talked about the role that the browser plays as a selling point (or lack thereof) for an operating system. Sinofsky said that Microsoft is also in a unique position among browser makers, since it only has to worry about making its browser sing on one platform--Windows. Meanwhile, Google, Mozilla, and others have to worry about Macs and Linux, in addition to the more widely used Windows operating system.

"It's a fact that we are not encumbered by trying to do browsers on all of the operating systems that have very small numbers of users," he said. "Other people can do that and that's great, but with that come a set of decisions and a set of hard challenges."

Sinofsky also talked about the role of Windows Live and other topics. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: What does IE9 do for Windows as a platform?
Sinofsky: Browsing is the thing that a lot of people do, obviously. What we really wanted to make sure of is that when you get Windows you get the very, very best browsing experience, period. Among all the people who make browsers, we're uniquely committed to doing a great job for Windows, which is the platform that the vast majority of people use when they are browsing.

We think there is something there and that you shouldn't be constrained by a least common denominator across operating systems.

So you think that with the level of investment you have put into IE, you can out-invest on Windows, whereas the other browser makers are spending across platforms?
Sinofsky: It's a fact that we are not encumbered by trying to do browsers on all of the operating systems that have very small numbers of users. Other people can do that and that's great, but with that come a set of decisions and a set of hard challenges.

We're not even really the best people to talk about that. You can watch the challenges that the other browser makers have in their public discussions and discourse even about doing something like hardware acceleration. Trying to figure out what APIs (application programming interfaces) to use and what machines and how it is going to work--there's not a straightforward answer if you are trying to do a great job and have a great job done in other operating systems.

Do you think with IE9 you have reached the point where the browser is again a selling point of Windows? I think it's fair to say most people haven't bought Windows because it natively comes with the best browsing experience. Do you think you have gotten to that point with IE9?
Sinofsky: I think the most important thing for us is that people just love IE9 and the work that we've done. We've gotten such a positive reception for Windows 7, which we are really happy with and certainly are humbled by the responsibility. Now you take Windows 7 and then you add, hopefully, a positive and warm reception for IE9 as well, I think there's an additive effect there for sure.

With the next release of Windows Live well in the pipeline and IE9 well in the pipeline, it would seem like the next development target would be the next version of Windows. Is that occupying a fair bit if your time?
Sinofsky: (stone-faced, silent stare)

I didn't even give it a number.
Sinofsky: (laughs) The Windows Live [update] is much nearer term than the holiday season and we've been in beta. We've refreshed the beta. That's going to come out. Then we still have to take IE9 from beta to the release. And yes, I do work on Windows, too.

So I guess I am not going to ask for the date and feature set.
Sinofsky: Feel free. Not answering is fairly easy.

What do you feel the next release of Windows Live does for the Windows 7 experience?
Sinofsky: We think that the combination of Windows plus Windows Live--and of course with the latest Internet Explorer--offers what we think of a complete Windows experience. It connects Windows up with services that you care about and it also provides rich experiences for photos, for movies, and for Messenger. There's some really exciting and innovative things in it and they also tap into the power of hardware. Movie Maker and Photo Gallery are all hardware accelerated and do a really great job using accelerated video and accelerated graphics in general. It's that whole complete experience. It's the things we have been doing in the very immediate term with Windows Live--connecting it up to Facebook and over 100 service providers. We view our role in Windows as enabling a platform for lots of people to be successful on. You see that here with over 70 Web and hardware developers. For us, it's all about providing that stage for people to show their great work on."