TMO Interviews Roz Ho of Microsoft's Mac Business Unit

by , 9:00 AM EST, January 12th, 2005

As general manager of the Macintosh Business Unit (MBU) at Microsoft, Roz Ho has overseen development of the latest iteration of Microsoft Office for Mac and the purchase and development of Virtual PC.

Ms. Ho spoke with The Mac Observer on the eve of this year's Macworld. Here is what she had to say:

The Mac Observer: What is your background previous to Microsoft?

Roz Ho: Before joining Microsoft in 1991, I was a software engineer for Hewlett Packard and played a key role in the development of an object-oriented graphical program.

TMO: How long have you worked with the MBU at Microsoft, and what product launches have you overseen?

Ms. Ho: I worked on Mac and Windows products from 1991-1997, Windows only from 1997-2000, and Mac only for the last four years. I was involved in the development of 10 releases of Office for Mac, and PowerPoint 3.0 was the first Office launch that I played a part in.

The release of Office 2004 was particularly exciting as this product was the culmination of a heavy focus on quality, where we conducted thousands of hours of research and increased testing. Since the launch, support calls are down half from what they were previously, which is something we're extremely happy about.

TMO: It's interesting to think that applications like Excel and Word were originally made for the Mac -- before Windows was even available. What sort of legacy has that engendered in your group?

Ms. Ho: Not only Excel and Word, but PowerPoint also was first designed for the Mac before it was later ported to Windows. We are extremely proud to have pioneered these globally used applications and continue to strive to make products that provide solutions for our customers.

We've inherited a legacy of quality and a long-standing commitment to the Mac platform. We also have a strong sense on the team that design really matters. This all means that we're very focused on continuous improvement and gathering customer feedback. We listen intently to the unique needs of our customers to provide them the best possible experience with each release, update, or new tool.

TMO: From what I've heard, perhaps the overriding feature in Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac is its integration capabilities. To what degree did the issue of integration drive Office 2004's development?

Ms. Ho: Integration of the Office for Mac suite has been important to our customers and to us since the early days. When customers create documents in the different applications to accomplish their tasks, they want to use the same graphics and text editing tools, the same address books, and so forth, regardless of what type of Office document they are editing.

Project Center in Office 2004 is a prime example of how integration helps the user organize data. We all work on "projects," whether we use that term or not. When you're putting together a New Year's Eve party, you're not necessarily thinking about what type of documents you'll create. You're thinking of all the contact information, the flyer, the graphics you'll use, the calendar request, and the e-mail you've exchanged with other people. Project Center lets you find and work on all that information quickly. That's the true value of integration!

Compatibility is also a driving factor in the development of our products and sets us apart from the competition. By ensuring an Excel spreadsheet will open properly, whether on a Mac or a PC, and look like it's supposed to regardless of how many people worked on it, we're helping our customers stay competitive. They don't have to worry about something that should just work. And if they're concerned, we've provided tools like Compatibility Reports, so they can double-check to see exactly how a document will appear on the receiving end for someone that may be in an earlier version of Office or on a PC.

TMO: The Mac version of Office has several features not available in the Windows version -- some features that seem to inspire envy among Windows users. What causes this divergence? Have you discovered that Mac users have expressed different needs than their Windows counterparts?

Ms. Ho: Some obvious differences are Mac users' desire for Office to capitalize on Mac OS technologies and to follow Mac user interface models. For example, we will be taking advantage of several features in Tiger in our next version of Office. �

In addition, Mac BU spends an enormous amount of time researching its customers' needs and developing products that meet those specific needs. We're committed to providing products and tools that help customers achieve their goals and work smarter in a mixed platform world. For example, a few of the new features introduced in Office 2004, such as Project Center and Word Notebook Layout View, were created in response to specific customer requests and are both Mac firsts. Customers were clear on wanting a better way to keep track of information, so we delivered Project Center. Customers also wanted an easier way to capture notes, search and flag information -- that resulted in the convenient Word Notebook Layout View.

TMO: Last summer columnist Steven Wildstrom of Business Week praised Office 2004 and said that corporations ought to give it a second look. Is your group targeting the enterprise market?

Ms. Ho: Office for Mac is a vital tool for all businesses from small to large. It is important to our customers who are at home as well, so we research all segments to make sure we build an Office product that meets the range of needs. Because cross-platform compatibility is necessary in business, Office for Mac does play an important role in the enterprise where Mac users frequently share Office documents with Windows users.

Another important cross-platform requirement is Exchange Server support. Office for Mac users need to be able to access their e-mail and calendar on the Exchange Server. And one of the major trends we recently identified is that enterprise workers are using instant messaging to get their work done on a daily basis. This doesn't replace e-mail; it augments it with an additional means of communication.

To address the needs of our enterprise customers, we're excited to announce some important tools and enhancements at Macworld 2005. For example, we'll be talking about the .PST Import Tool. This is something our customers requested to easily migrate data from Outlook 2001 for Mac to Entourage, so we're pleased to say that it's arriving in the next few months. We'll be kicking off a public beta program as well to ensure our customers have a say in the final product.

Also, we've got a lot lined up to improve collaboration in the enterprise and deliver a much smoother experience overall. We're upgrading Exchange support in an update to Entourage planned for later this year and will focus on a number of enhancements, including work on calendars and public folders, server/client synchronization, and permissions and mailbox quota management. Additionally, MSN Messenger for Mac Version 5.0 is on its way. It will be one of the first corporate instant messenger offerings for the Mac that addresses the messaging trend we tracked, helping enable secure messaging within the enterprise environment.

TMO: I've heard analysts say that it isn't cost-effective for Microsoft to develop applications for what is about 3 percent of computer users worldwide. Yet your group doesn't exactly look like it's being phased out in any way. To what degree is developing software for Macs smart business, and to what degree is doing so a tribute to your group's long-standing legacy with the Mac platform?

Ms. Ho: With a customer base of more than seven million Office for Mac users worldwide, developing Mac products is a strong and profitable business. Our revenue has continued to increase over the years, and the Mac BU had one of its strongest years ever in FY04. The business is a profitable one for Microsoft, and Office is an important productivity tool for Mac users. As long as these facts remain true, we will continue to develop Office for Mac and Virtual PC for Mac.

TMO: Many Mac pundits have called Word 5.1 the best word processor ever for the Mac because it had an ideal balance of quickness and functionality. The next version, 6.0, was subsequently panned as bloatware. What lessons did your group learn from that experience, and how does it translate into today's apps?

Ms. Ho: One of the key teachings we still hold sacred is that more is not necessarily better! That's the reason we do so much customer research; so we can figure out the feature set that best satisfies customer needs. Since Office 98, the key to building our software has been that Mac users build it for Mac users.

We do not port over a Windows version of Office to shoehorn it onto the Mac with all of the features that were built for Windows users. The development done in the Mac BU is Mac specific and based on customer research. For example, the main focus for Office 2004 was helping our customers work smarter by providing more efficient tools, and customers have been incredibly pleased with what we have done.

TMO: What new features has the MBU added to version 7 of Virtual PC?

Ms. Ho: First and foremost, Virtual PC 7 now runs on the G5 and takes advantage of its robust processor to offer performance enhancements. This was the most important request from customers. Virtual PC 7 also runs 10 to 30 percent faster than its predecessor, and one of the most significant performance improvements in this release is graphics rendering.

Additionally, customers will notice the new Fast Save feature, which allows them to close Virtual PC 7 with one click. It saves the PC state in the background so users can get on with their tasks instantly without waiting and watching Virtual PC save. Finally, we enhanced the overall user experience, making the software more intuitive, straightforward and just easier to use.

TMO: Now that Microsoft is developing and producing Virtual PC, how has that impacted Virtual PC's and Mac OS X's overall compatibility with Windows?

Ms. Ho: We have an advantage with the Windows team right next door, so we can get help when we need to understand the complex interactions between Virtual PC and the guest operating system, or when we need to debug as we are developing and testing.

We also took advantage of many of the security enhancements from the Windows team, and we conduct extensive testing on compatibility. Prior to joining Mac BU, Virtual PC developers relied mainly on anecdotal feedback such as support calls and sales visits.

So, one of the first things we did was quantitative research to better understand Virtual PC customers and their needs. New features in Virtual PC 7, such as easy printing, are a direct result of that research. Mac OS X Panther version 10.3 users don't need to install special printer drivers; they can simply choose to print from any PC application and the file will automatically print to the Mac's default printer with no setup required. Also, customers can take advantage of Mac's naturally intuitive Help System and access an expanded list of both task- and feature-based help.

TMO: Lastly, what kind of Mac do you use?

Ms. Ho: I use several Macs. �I have a 15" PowerBook, a 12" PowerBook and an iMac.