Terry Myerson: what you need to know about the new head of Windows

25th Aug 2013 | 11:00

Terry Myerson: what you need to know about the new head of Windows

Bringing experience to the Windows party

When we spoke to Terry Myerson at the launch of Windows Phone 8 last year he was bullish about the new operating system and keen to talk up both the new features and the new handsets, promising that "we're not relaxing now".

But he was also remarkably knowledgeable about a wide range of Microsoft products beyond Windows Phone.

Since taking over from Julie Larson-Green as head of Windows, as well as retaining his existing job on Windows Phone, plus the operating system side of Xbox, he hasn't said much about his plans.

The only official comment has been what he said when the Microsoft reorganisation was announced, about working with lots of product partners, including Surface.

"We've got innovative ideas coming from our OEM partners and Julie's team has some very innovative ideas. And the platform needs to span from the PPI [Perceptive Pixel] whiteboard to Xbox, to our phone, and beyond. So it's exciting to have all these hardware partners in the Windows ecosystem - or in the Microsoft ecosystem - and all the innovative ideas, and to bring it to market together," he said then.

Myerson is used to dealing with OEM partners in the Windows Phone world. He's said to be the man who reached out to Stephen Elop about putting Windows Phone on Nokia handsets. In fact, he once worked for Elop when he was running Office and Myerson was in charge of Microsoft Exchange.

Widows Mobile killer

He became head of Windows Phone engineering in October 2008, just as the first Android phone (from long-term Windows Mobile partner HTC) went on sale. The first thing he did? Cancel Windows Mobile 7, codenamed Photon, and recruit Joe Belfiore to work on a replacement.

"I'm the guy that killed Photon, there you go!" Myerson told us cheerily at the Windows Phone 8 launch. He's still confident it was the right decision, but it must have annoyed partners such as Motorola, HTC and Samsung, who had sunk significant amounts of money into development only to see it delayed again and again.

The powerful handsets they'd designed for the next generation OS shipped with the stopgap Windows Mobile 6.5 and its odd honeycomb Start screen.

What you need to know about Terry Myerson

The Windows Mobile team first started working on Photon in 2004 and the ambitious plans included using the camera and accelerometer for 3D gestures as well as having multiple touchscreen gestures, supporting Silverlight in the browser and for apps to use location and cloud services to help you connect with your friends while you're out and about.

That would have been great in 2007 when it was due to ship, but development dragged on for even longer than Windows Vista and the launch date slipped to 2009 and then 2010, prompting Steve Ballmer to admit that serious mistakes had been made.

Myerson and Andy Lees were the "major talent" that Ballmer put in to turn things around. In his previous job running the Exchange team, Myerson had spent time negotiating with Apple to licence Microsoft sync technology for the iPhone. That may have given him a clearer view of the competition Microsoft would have to catch up with and helped with the hard decision to make a clean break.

Birth of Windows Phone 7

The phone team threw out the Photon code and started on another mobile OS based on the Windows CE platform that Photon would have run on; Windows Phone 7. At about the same time, the research OS team at Microsoft Research got together with the Windows team who had produced the MinWin Windows core that helped make Windows 7 so efficient, in a "skunkworks project" to put the Windows NT kernel onto ARM.

Experiment 19 was a success: the Windows NT kernel and MinWin core were faster than Windows CE on the same ARM hardware. By 2009, the Windows Phone team was already working on Windows Phone 8 alongside Windows Phone 7 (and the Windows team was working on Windows RT, giving Myerson experience of co-ordinating with both the Windows team and Larson-Green).

What you need to know about Terry Myerson

Soon Andy Lees moved on to handle the Barnes and Noble negotiations for Steve Ballmer and Terry Myerson took over Windows Phone completely.

He quickly showed he's not afraid to criticise the competition, claiming for example that Android is buggy and fragmented, and that Apple only releases iOS upgrades to make you buy a new phone. "Statistically speaking, no Android phones get upgraded, none, ever," he said at Mobile World Congress 2012.

"They have big bugs, they don't even get patched. That's what we're seeing statistically out there. In the case of Apple, they've shipped OS updates to hardware that makes it unusable. It's a great hardware sales tool as far as I can tell. Install this OS which makes your hardware unusably slow, so then you feel compelled to go back to the store and buy a new piece of hardware."

Early Microsoft career

So what had Myerson done at Microsoft before to qualify as "major talent"? He joined Microsoft in 1997 when it acquired the web analytics company he founded, Interse. That became Microsoft Site Server and then Microsoft Commerce Server, which integrated with SQL Server, SharePoint and Microsoft's business integration tool BizTalk, which Myerson led the development team for. These were significant products that gave Microsoft credible business tools for competing with enterprise players such as SAP.

In 2001 he took over Exchange, and he went from general manager to corporate vice president as the Exchange team delivered two of its most significant releases, Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007.

They made Microsoft the leader in business email - and they included significant mobile features, from being able to get your email through a web browser to searching the mail server from your phone to remotely wiping lost phones with Exchange 2007.

What you need to know about Terry Myerson

Perhaps the biggest was Exchange Active Sync, a protocol that Microsoft licensed to Sony, Palm, Nokia, Symbian and Motorola for syncing email, contacts and calendars from Exchange - and the increasing number of webmail services using AS - onto their phones.

One of Myerson's last achievements on the Exchange team was his two-week negotiation with Apple's Phil Schiller to have the iPhone support EAS.

But Myerson also oversaw the introduction of technologies in Exchange that are significant in Windows now, such as PowerShell; Exchange was the first Microsoft product to enable you to control it with the powerful scripting system that was then called Monad.

And he led the development of Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). This is Microsoft's implementation of open standards for managing and monitoring an operating system, and it's at the heart of the automation that underlies Microsoft's cloud technologies, including Azure.

Windows beyond phones

Terry Myerson isn't just responsible for Windows Phone - which has been widely praised, even though sales have been slow to take off. He's also been involved with a broad range of Microsoft technologies that have gone on to be crucial for the company, and with integrating them into other products, which bodes well for managing a core operating system that runs the range of different Microsoft devices and services.

If Terry Myerson can repeat the success of Exchange with Windows 8.1, Windows Phone and Xbox, Microsoft will be sitting pretty.

But he's going to be facing OEMs who are disappointed by the sales of Windows 8, making them just as unhappy as the phone OEMs he had to deal with when he cancelled Photon - and unless you count the innovative but not big-selling Surface team, there's no obvious equivalent of Nokia ready to throw significant hardware research and development behind new Windows devices.

But when you think about his background, it's obvious why Steve Ballmer thought he was the best choice for the Microsoft OS, even if Steve Ballmer himself is now to leave Microsoft - check out Ballmer leaves Microsoft. But in what shape?

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