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Diane Antonakes will never look at her aqua-blue 1995 Pontiac Sunfire quite the same way again. Diane tests software-specifically Microsoft® Windows® CE- for a living, not cars. But she sure felt like a pro when she recently maneuvered her little sports car over a racetrack at 100 miles an hour, tires squealing, and didn't slow down on the curves.
Handheld PC. Approximate size: 7 5/8" wide by 4" tall. (opened)
Slowing down wasn't an option for the development and test team of Windows CE version 2.0 for the Handheld PC (H/PC), which launched on October 13, 1997. Antonakes and other die-hard testers and developers worked around the clock to release the product on time and free of bugs.
How did the team remain focused and energized despite the grueling deadlines and mountains of work? Apparently, it just took a little competition and the prospect of a really fast car race.
"We have a lot of insane drivers on our team," said Bill Mitchell, Director of the Mobile Electronics Product Group. "So I decided to sponsor a 'Bug Drive' and pay for the top bug finders and fixers to take an all-day trip to the Seattle International Raceway to try their luck at racing their own cars."
And They're Off
For two solid weeks, the Windows CE team raced round the clock to log and fix as many bugs as possible. Anyone who found a "show-stopper," a bug that could potentially prevent the product from shipping on time, got their bug added to the list.
"We set up this Web site that actually did a pretty complicated query calculations to determine who had the most fixed severe, high priority bugs," said Kevin Shields, Group Program Manager for the H/PC. "The team would constantly check it out to see what position they were in the race."
That's when the competition started. Some testers assumed they were behind in the race until they paid a visit to the internal Web site and realized they were ahead of everyone else. Other testers would log new bugs and steal the pole position. Sometimes the same bug would be entered by multiple testers, resulting in terrific battles for first place.
"It does get fairly competitive around here but it's all in the name of fun," said Scott Paulson, Test Manager for the Mobile Electronics Product Unit at Microsoft. "You can get pretty tired doing this kind of testing work, day in and day out, and this was a great way to get everyone excited about the product and about making it the best it could be."
In the fall of 1996, Microsoft introduced its newest addition to the Windows operating system family - Windows CE. Designed from scratch, Windows CE was created as an embedded OS platform to help develop a whole new range of emerging computing appliances, like Handheld PCs, game consoles, smart phones, TV set-top boxes, DVD players and home appliances. The great thing about Windows CE is that it's flexible, and can be used in traditional embedded applications to help manage process monitoring and control, instrumentation, data collection, computer peripherals, office equipment, point-of-sale devices and telecommunications.
"Our Windows CE team is awesome," said Sharad Mathur, Development Manager for Windows CE. "It's fascinating when you think that an operating system you're working on could end up on millions of devices around the world some day in the future."
The very first Windows CE-based devices to hit the streets were H/PCs, back in November 1996. But that was just the beginning. On September 29, 1997, Microsoft announced the release of Windows CE version 2.0. Now, the possibilities for Windows CE are exploding and more and more companies are expected to use the OS in all sorts of new ways.
"The Windows CE operating system is really a lot like a set of Legos," said Mitchell. "It has a lot of different parts, and hardware manufacturers get to pick and choose which cool pieces they want to play. That's what makes it such a great broad-based platform."
Crossing the Finish Line
Race day finally dawned. The testers finished logging all of their bugs and the most proficient bug-trackers headed for the local race track. After a long morning of slaloming through cones, reviewing the rules of the road, dodging obstacles and practicing breaking exercises, they were ready to test their racing skills.
"It was scary at first, being out there on the track with so many other cars going so fast," said Antonakes. "But by the end of the day, my goal was to go over 100 miles an hour and pass someone, and I did it!"
"This was a really great experience for me because, even though you're with people from work, you don't have time to think about anything but your car and the racetrack," Antonakes said. "It's a really grueling experience and it totally clears your mind of everything so you come back to work the next day refreshed and ready to dive back into testing."
Whitney Whiton is a contributor to the Windows CE Web site.