Media Center is Cool, but…


That last post got a lot of comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

I'm going to be back on topic for my blog here a bit more and talk about project management on such a cool product. Media Center is a lot of fun to work on, and as you can tell from all the suggestions, there are tons of ideas. So what do we do with all that, and what value does the project manager add?

The point at which we are at in the blog (which is brainstorming features, just like the teams do in Microsoft) is a lot like our planning phase - often called milestone zero. But where does it go from here?

Well that is where project management comes into the picture. We provide structure, process, and cohesion.

In this case, pretending that we are at the start of Vista, I'd work with everyone on this blog to make sure your feature specifications are written and "costed." Costed (not really a word) is about figuring out how much development and test time you need to get the work done and stable. Costing would also include making sure any help files are written, usability studies are scheduled as well making sure the overall schedule of a feature is on track amongst a whole slew of other pieces that donโ€™t get thought about.

That's a big part of project management - to provide a schedule. We work with management and some primary feature teams as well as marketing to create a schedule. We would work to create an RTM (release to market/manufacturing) date with our marketing teams or management and work back from there. There is a lot more that goes into the scheduling then I'm going into right now as it can be an entire blog on its own, so I'm glossing over a lot, a whole lot. Tell me if youโ€™d like to know more as I think a lot of people wonder why software development takes so long and how are dates really picked.

Once we have a schedule we drive that back to our feature teams and give them a framework, or a process, in which to work and succeed. For instance I might push a schedule that requires you to have your specifications, test plans and development costing done in two weeks. That would limit what you can do - and force you to focus on what is most important.

So next time you wonder why we didn't do a specific feature, or why we chose to do one thing over another, think about the fact that if we didn't make choices we'd either never ship or weโ€™d release such a confusing unstable product that it would be unusable.

As a project manager I think about the health of the project as a whole. We call it the 10,000 foot view (as in I see big pieces like mountains and roads but not the little details like bumper stickers on cars), and I provide structure and process to get things done and to be successful. I've spent a little time thinking about processes that we use everyday without realizing it - from buying groceries to getting gas to eating at a restaurant to a simple phone call. All of it is a process - and it shapes how we communicate with the world and conduct business.

Next time I'll talk more about process in project management and the very delicate balance between too much process and too little. After all nobody wants to be too bureaucratic or a burden to creative ideas. ๐Ÿ™‚

Comments (17)
  1. Roger says:


    How do we as customers get the features we want?

    Everyone knows that where extenders come in, MS seems to have a blind spot for some commonly used codecs… like DivX/XVid.

    I read something last week where a MS higher-up was talking about the purpose of ModChips in the XBOX, and how there were essentially two camps about that, Pirates (Which obviously need to be stopped), and Modders ( who want to turn their xboxen into Media Centers)

    So, he said that MS added the functionality into the Xbox 360 extender.– Except — Rumor has it, no DIVX.

    WTF? Seriously! I back up my movies not as WMV (Mainly for a lack of decent tools for encoding, and I still can’t figure out if/how to preserve the AC3 sound) but as XVid AVIs. I’ve archived hundreds of DVDs I own as movies I can watch–but only on the main PC? Why can’t I watch them on the Xbox? If I archived them as WMV, it would let me.

    What, great master, do we have to do in order to get these features added?

    Other than modchipping the damn thing?

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    Calling me "great master" will get you far. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don’t know specfically about DIVX in the XBOX 360, or a whole lot about XBOX strategy…

    I think if there is enough customer need and request you might see these things. I know of nothing specific but we do listen to our customers and add popular features.

    Now you having a bunch of DVDs ripped and playing them back on XBOX 360 is important to you, I get that – but how many other people have it? How many have it in DIVX format? How does that compare to say watching TV or listening to music? I don’t know these answers but if you came to me at work and told me that the DIVX feature had to 100% go in, I’d start asking you these questions and more.

    Without know about DIVX support, you can still see from a project perspective perhaps why, if it wasn’t there or was there, how we would have come to that conclusion. Everything is a trade-off.

    I get your concerns though…

  3. Matthew says:

    This is great insight into the process.

    I’m fascinated w/ project management practices at Microsoft.

    Do you know of any public resources (msdn, or along the lines of your blog post, which outlines the PM process in more detail?

  4. James says:

    Dave, This is fairly off the topic of this post but your posts are starting to get many responses and thoughts get lost. Can you explain the full situation of the sonicencoders.msi file that seems to be an item that gets a huge amount of online questions. The big question obviously is why Microsoft didn’t include it in MCE? It’s almost like the Media Center killer app, and the rollup 2 version is such a time saver compared to all other methods of burning HDTV to DVD’s, you guys definitely hit that one out of the park! But not every MCE user gets the same MCE experience because each build may or may not it installed.

    The MPEG site lists each mpeg2 encoder software royalty payment at $2.50, Sonic requires $.20 per file and Dolby gets a cut out of Sonic’s piece. Microsoft retails MCE around $130, so I doubt a royalty of less than $3 per copy excluded it from the final version. Its a small file and MCE is sold as a two CD set anyway so it can’t be size. The OEM pack only has one DVD with the file included for three copies of the O/S, and Microsoft doesn’t allow small OEM’s to change their original disc images, so that can’t be it. Was it any expected support costs? Possible liabilty lawsuits from Hollywood? A marketing point you had to let the OEM’s take credit for?

    See, since neither your company nor Sonic Solutions makes it available to buy, many users resort to begging and pleading for it. It just doesn’t make sense, especially if there’s money to be made with it! Thanks.

  5. MSDN Archive says:

    For the request on more info about Project Management check out

    I haven’t read it yet, but a lot of people were talking about it at work, and I believe the author worked at MS or works at MS now. There is even a quote from our general manager in the review. ๐Ÿ™‚

    On the Sonic issue – I don’t really know. Matt Goyer’s blog (linked on mine) talks about this a bit – but I don’t have the complete answer. I’ll see if I can dig anything up, but no promises.

  6. Matthew says:

    Thanks! I think it’s exactly what I’m looking for.

  7. Roger says:

    Oh great powerful master, thanks for the reply ๐Ÿ™‚

    "…I think if there is enough customer need and request you might see these things. I know of nothing specific but we do listen to our customers and add popular features…"

    See, here’s the first hurdle. How does MS get this information? The blogs that everyone writes into simply can’t extract all of this, and from where I sit, I have no idea as to how to ‘suggest’ features for inclusion. I sit and troll blogs for clues looking for those responsible or near to those responsible in order to get my voice heard. Where is MS going to find out what user’s want? Have you guys looked at the knock-off projects out there that people are building just to get what they want? ( and — This is what they are building to get what they want!

    "… but how many other people have it? How many have it in DIVX format?"

    You. Are. Kidding. Me. RIGHT?

    It’s not possible for you to be working as a Project Manager for Media Center, and not know the popularity of these technologies. I just simply can’t believe that.

    Everyone I know. EVERYONE who has a media pc, no matter what technology it has been built on (XMBC, XP Media Center, SageTV, SnapStream’s Beyond TV, MythTV, MediaPortal, and others) all of these people are using DivX (or it’s free cousin XVid) as their archival codec. Go check out MCE’s favorite slow website . Read the forums, please. It’s littered with folks using/wanting-to-use DivX codecs for storage, not just for archival of movies, but for storing shows they record, home movies, and whatnot. I realize that Microsoft has an investment into WMV that ain’t going away, but you can’t possibly tell me that you are not aware of the massive popularity of the MPEG4 codecs in an AVI container.

    Roger the bewildered.

  8. MSDN Archive says:

    I totally get the popluarity of DIVX. The point of my post was to explain what I would do in the case of a request to get a change to the product. The question isn’t how many people do you know, but how many of our customers have it…

    I’m talking pure theory on this. Thus my second point in my post. I don’t know the status of DIVX in the XBOX 360 or the Media Center component.

  9. Randy says:

    I would hope that VistaMCE will be network aware. So that if I have multiple MCE’s around the house they can all record/watch tv from a single or multiple shared folders or NAS, that if I tell my MCE in the family room to record 3 shows at the same time but it only has 2 tuners, the machine will check with other MCE’s on the network and have one of the others record, that all MCE’s can see the scheduled shows, etc… This sort of feature is a must!


  10. Keith Hill says:

    "Now you having a bunch of DVDs ripped and playing them back on XBOX 360 is important to you, I get that – but how many other people have it?"

    I would love to have the ability to have a DVD jukebox much like MCE provides now with My Music (call it My Movies). I would want to be able to stream these to my MCX device and I would like to know that I can still get surround sound and the menus after they are ripped. I would also like to have the feature be economical in terms of hard disk space. Personally I don’t much about DIVX except that there was something called DIVX 6 or 7 years ago that I (and many others) absolutely despised. Whoever decided to re-use that name ought to have their head examined.

  11. Zimo says:

    Everyone has different needs and desires for MCE. Personally I want to be able to record, save and archive my television shows ESPECIALLY HDTV! Regarding the Poster who wanted DIVX included with MCE: I’d agree it should be included and to think MS doesn’t know that its a feature that many users wants is insane. Lets call a spade a spade. MS wants their proprietary file formats to be the only ones to work. I can’t say I blame them. If I was Bill Gates I would love to have total control over my own destiny. However go through the front door and tell the customers the truth! With that said– proprietary formats have a history of failing. Just ask sony how they feel about mp3 ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. captain_caveman2k says:

    Hi David,

    As someone that has been involved in the software engineering instructy (from developer to technical director) for the last 11 years of my career I am familar with the development lifecycle and processes involved in developing, testing and releasing software to manufacturing / the customer as well as supporting the end user – however I must thank you for an interesting read and insight into how things are done at Microsoft.

    > I think if there is enough customer need and request you might see these things

    As such I would specifically be interested to know more about how such a large company as Microsoft listens to it’s customers (whether they be large business customers, OEMs or the likes of myself and Joe Bloggs as individual end users) and what processes are in place for this. Especially, as I feel it is generally alot easier for small companies to listen to it’s customers – with there being more of a one-to-one relationship in place.

    Many thanks and keep up the good work

    Kind Regards


  13. MSDN Archive says:

    How do we get customer feedback? Well any number of ways. I think a lot of people forget that behind the big corporate name Microsoft is just a bunch of people "trying to do the right thing."

    I put that in quotes because the right thing is impossible to define โ€“ but we are all focused on really making the best product we can.

    One of the ways we make ourselves feel good about what we’re doing is through customer feedback.

    I’d say top would be through market research. Because we are so big we can afford to get research done – or buy studies. This doesn’t apply to everything.

    Secondly is talking to our customers. I our case OEMs are our first line of feedback. They give us information from their customers and we use that to make decisions. We have a team dedicated to the OEM relationships.

    Third, and something I think we’re getting better at all the time, is working directly in the community and talking to people. The "community push" is something we really talk about and work on actively. We use newsgroups hosted by MS, or read other technology specific sites (such as thegreenbutton or thomashawkโ€™s blog) and we blog ourselves. We also have what are called MVPs who are not MS employees but work in the community and help us understand.

    Finally we do usability studies on our products. In terms of media center that takes the form of betas, in home users, and specific studies where customers come in to be questioned about a specific feature.

    For Media Center a big part of feedback also comes from a program where all Media Center employees take home a machine and use it daily. We understand the SAF (spouse acceptance factor) and we give a lot of feedback.

    That is a quick overview of what we do. Hope it helps. ๐Ÿ™‚

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