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Meeting Dave Probert, from the Windows Kernel

Maximiliano Firtman avatarby Maximiliano Firtman Twitter @firt About Newsletter

About 4 min reading time

I've interviewed Dave Probert, one of the development architects of the core of

Windows 2000, Windows XP and, recently, Windows Vista. He is also in charge of the academic program in which the company shares the code Windows code with university professors of operating systems.

This interview was published in Users.code, printed magazine in spanish

What is your job at Microsoft? #

Now I'm working on kernel architecture inside Windows. Because before I've had dedicated several years to the university, I took advantage of that experience to return to work with those institutions. It's not my fundamental responsibility but one of my tasks is to help universities better understand the Windows platform.

I worked with UNIX for a long time; I think I understand the affection that the departments of computing, its teachers and students for it. I have my own affection in as regards the interior of Windows; therefore I was working with my colleagues to make it possible for universities start to want to talk about Windows. I started traveling all over the world and to deliver materials that describes the basic part of the system, and we started to provide the source code of main parts of the core, along with large amounts of presentation material that describe the internal operations of Windows.

The objective is that the teachers get excited when they teach operating systems, that not only teach UNIX, but also teach Windows.

Why do you think that until now, universities don't teach Windows? #

The main reason is that, in science computing, we love UNIX, we are familiar with it, and it's a system which has many qualities, which makes make it interesting to teach.

Do you love UNIX? #


Do you love Windows? #


What do you think is the advantage of delivering parts of the Windows source code in the academic world? #

In order to understand the internal parts of Windows, you need to be able to read the source code, and I explain it to teachers in this way: if we would only give the material and the students asked them a difficult question, without the source code how could they give them an answer? So, we give the source code.

There are students who participated in the project who question the mere fact of looking at the source code for fear of copying some algorithm and have some commercial problem. What do you think about that? #

(silence) ... I understand that kind of fear because the climate that makes the property Intellectual is very difficult and complex. I am very happy not to be a lawyer. This program is designed so that teachers feel comfortable using source code in the classroom. All the days we ran into the property issue intellectual and generally we know what is good and what is not. If I listen a song on the radio, I can't write it and say it's mine. If I write or read the source code and I decide to write it and say it is mine, would be wrong; and people will know. But if I hear a song and that inspires you to write poetry, then the poetry is totally mine, written with my own words, and then there is no problem. It is simply inspiration; the same is true with the source code of Windows.

For now, the program is only academic. Do you see a future where the source code of Windows can be more accessible for commercial developers? #

I will give you my personal opinion, not Microsoft's one. People who want the source code for commercial purposes wants it for two reasons. The first is to use it as a resource on which to build another product, in which case you need to follow the normal paths to get a license. Just as if I listened to a song on the radio and wanted use it for a commercial.

The second concerns commercial application developers, who want the source code to understand how it works the system. My personal opinion is that it is not good to deliver it, because they are going to learn how a specific version works of the operating system, and they will base their own designs on the way in which that version works. If we change the internal system in the next version, your program will not work properly. And your clients too they are our clients. And so our clients will be unhappy with us saying that now the program does not work. So, is important to us, in computer science, to achieve the interoperation between programs and systems operating from contracts software, and not from the code source. Maybe from Microsoft we may provide the source code for commercial purposes, but my personal opinion is this could be a bad idea if people base their understanding in the source code and not in its behavior.

Do you feel pressure or responsibility considering the massiveness Windows in the world? #

I never felt pressure. But I recognize the responsibility and the opportunity. I give you an example: when one of my engineers has an idea I ask him: “if there is a problem, how much time would it cost to user? Now multiply it by the billion users Windows have and tell me how many man lives you just spent."

That is the only reasonable scale for measure the impact of Windows. Windows has helped change the economy of all nations of the world, by increasing productivity human, empower the people to achieve their dreams and give them a great opportunity to take part. Before Windows, computers were very expensive few people accessed them, and Microsoft's strategy helped lower your cost. Now the biggest part of the people in most of the countries have access to a PC. We have shrunk the world through technology.

Having worked on the Windows kernel, what could tell those users that they love only UNIX and not do they want or recommend Windows? #

It is a very good question ... I always hope to convince them. In general, the biggest criticisms they have are they refer to stability, based on two things: previous non-NT-based versions of Windows and issues with drivers or hardware. For example, we have seen many memory error problems. In Windows Vista, we have added a program that can be run to verify the memory. The Windows base today is NT, it is like VMS. It is extremely stable for what the operating system is. By therefore, if they consider that Windows is not stable, they do not know today's Windows.

The other point I could mention is that they should open their minds and analyze many different ideas. The fact of loving what that we are familiar with is human. But wisdom is being open to different options, understand them and appreciate their beauty. Although, at first, it seems unfamiliar to us.

Half typewriter, half computer

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