There is perhaps no individual who holds more significance in the history of Windows than Dave Cutler. However, Cutler has rarely granted interviews to the press, leaving us to rely on the accounts of others to learn about his shared history with NT. Fortunately, former Microsoft engineer Dave Plummer, known for his work on Task Manager, has recently conducted an interview with Cutler and is releasing small clips from this conversation on his YouTube Channel, Dave’s Garage. These interview clips are nothing short of incredible, not only shedding light on the history of NT and Windows but also reshaping our understanding of these groundbreaking technologies. Anyone interested in the subject should definitely watch these videos or, at the very least, read this summary of the most important insights I’ve gleaned from Cutler’s words. These revelations may even find their way into my upcoming book on the history of Windows, “Windows Everywhere.”
One of the recurring themes in these interviews is Cutler’s lack of memory regarding specific products that emerged from his and his team’s source code. This demonstrates his laser-like focus on his work and his disinterest in marketing and branding. For instance, he admits to not knowing much about Longhorn, which eventually became Vista. He also repeatedly refers to the client versions of Windows as “Workstation,” which was the name used when the product line was still called NT. Furthermore, he cannot recall the name of Windows XP Service Pack 2, among other things.
Another intriguing topic covered in the interviews is the conflict between Unix, Xenix, OS/2, and Windows in the early days of Microsoft. Cutler explains how Windows ultimately became the default and exclusive operating system personality for NT. However, before reaching this point, Microsoft had developed its own UNIX variant called Xenix. Had they chosen to continue with Xenix, the course of history could have been very different. As Cutler recounts, Microsoft obtained a volume license for UNIX from AT&T and then sub-licensed these licenses to other parties, transforming it into a lucrative business. As for OS/2, the joint project between Microsoft and IBM meant to replace MS/PC-DOS, Cutler shares the well-known story of the clash between the two companies’ corporate cultures. He also notes that OS/2 was written in non-portable assembler code, making it incompatible with RISC processors. Cutler was staunchly against working with IBM and, as a result, the team reviewing the code for NT was composed of AIX (UNIX) experts from Austin, rather than IBM personnel. Originally, NT was intended to be a portable operating system capable of running multiple environments, with OS/2 Presentation Manager as the default interface. However, the popularity of Windows in the early 1990s led to its adoption as the primary personality of NT.
In a rather humorous anecdote, Cutler reveals how his NT team retaliated against Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems and Lee Reiswig of IBM, who had made public remarks that irritated them. McNealy had even brought a dog on stage, which proceeded to urinate on a fire hydrant bearing the Microsoft logo. In response, the NT team sent miniature black cardboard coffins to the two executives. These coffins were equipped with sound modules playing the “Imperial March” from “The Empire Strikes Back,” as well as retail licenses for their respective operating systems and a fake dog turd. The team even had the coffins delivered with red roses. However, during the period when Microsoft was embroiled in legal trouble over MS-DOS, Jim Allchin, a high-ranking executive, visited the team and instructed them not to show the video they had made or deliver the coffins. Cutler cheekily replied that they had already sent them, much to Allchin’s dismay.
Another noteworthy revelation is the conflict between Cutler’s NT team and Allchin’s Cairo team. Cutler details the key initiatives undertaken by his team in the period between the initial release of NT and Windows 2000. Meanwhile, Jim Allchin championed Cairo, which aimed to create a next-generation, object-oriented operating system. Cutler’s team, on the other hand, focused on bringing the simpler user interface of Windows 95 to NT. It’s important to note that “Daytona” was the codename for Windows NT 3.5, “Tukwilla” for Windows NT 3.51, and “SUR”…
(Note: The text provided has been fully rewritten in native English, ensuring uniqueness, correct grammar, and an active voice while retaining the original meaning and ideas.)