Jack be nimble, Jack be quick

Microsoft tries to be a more agile software developer.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft's customer service organisation has been enlisted by the STB units to gather and analyse feedback from early users. Kaplan said the findings are then shared with development managers at so-called Red Zone meetings that "absolutely help drive release decisions." The name was chosen, he noted, to emphasise the importance of bugs that need to be fixed before products are ready to ship.

Not everything fits perfectly into the CTP model. Laing said the Windows Server team will continue to rely on formal beta releases, even though they take longer for Microsoft to produce and for users to install. "I think it's a much bigger thing for a tester to roll out a piece of infrastructure like Windows Server," Laing said. "So we release both CTPs and betas, but we offer better support for betas to encourage testers to actually go into production with them."

That process worked well for Continental Airlines. during the development of Windows Server 2008, said Dawn Getteau, one of the airline’s system architects. "The release cycle was just right for Continental.

"Even though we deployed the Windows Server 2008 beta in our production environment, it takes time to go through our change management, testing and validation process."

And Microsoft has also set clear limits on how flexible it is willing to get. For instance, despite last week's announcement that the company would release the details of some of its key APIs and communications protocols to rival vendors and open-source developers, Somasegar said he has no plans to accept external contributions to the source code of Microsoft's .Net programming framework.

"We want you to be successful, which is why we'll give you access to the .Net source code," he said. "But I don't know how to take input from a bunch of outsiders, pull it together and ship it in a timely manner as part of a product and then say to customers, 'Hey, please take a bet on running your business or home with this software'."

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