David Cutler

2007 Career Achievement
Cutler is universally acclaimed as the key technical brain behind the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Senior Technical Fellow David Cutler—recipient of the inaugural Microsoft Technical Recognition Award for Career Achievement—is the key technical brain behind the 50 million lines of code constituting Microsoft's flagship product, the Windows operating system. "I've worked very hard my whole life," he says of the recognition. "It's gratifying to know all that hard work paid off."

Though he lacked formal computer science training or education, David Cutler was already a highly accomplished operating system designer prior to his arrival at Microsoft. Cutler's RSX-11M operating system ran on the Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11 16-bit series of minicomputers and led to the first major wave of computer downsizing. He subsequently designed the 32-bit VMS operating system for Digital's VAX computers, whose networking innovations paved the way for the Internet.

After his mentor, computer designer Gordon Bell, left Digital, Cutler moved a team from Digital's Massachusetts headquarters to Seattle. "Gordon taught me that it's the data that counts, not your opinion or gut feeling," Cutler says of Bell, now a senior researcher in Microsoft's Media Presence Group. "He's one of the most brilliant computer science people who's ever lived."

In 1988, Cutler was hired by Bill Gates "to do what I considered a real PC operating system." Although Cutler wasn't interested in working on personal computers, Gates convinced him to seize the opportunity to build a portable operating system that could run mission-critical applications. "Our goals for the system included portability, security, POSIX compliance, compatibility, scalable performance (multiprocessor support), extensibility, and ease of internationalization," Cutler recalled in his foreword to Helen Custer's Inside Windows NT. As Gates put it at the time: "NT represents the end of the dichotomy between what's a PC and what's a workstation or a mainframe."

The hard work leading to the launch of the first Windows NT (New Technology) release in June 1993 is the stuff of legend (and more than one book). "I used to give a little speech at the start of our weekly integration meetings," Cutler says, "and I'd usually start by saying, ‘You don't know it yet, but these are the good old days.' We were small and nimble, and everybody knew everybody." Cutler earned a reputation as an indefatigable, no-nonsense leader who eschewed the niceties of corporate life. "I'm a dogged person," he admits. "I keep at things until I eventually succeed at them."

All subsequent Windows releases, including Vista™, have been based on the original NT kernel code Cutler wrote himself. His tough standards and untiring work ethic left a lasting impression.

With the help of another small team, Cutler went on to design the 64-bit Windows XP, released in 2001, and its subsequent upgrades. His current focus is on developing a specialized version of Windows for Microsoft's growing network of global data centers. "One of the things we didn't see when I arrived was how much power these PCs were going to have," he recalls. "At the beginning, we didn't do some things in the OS because we didn't think the machines would be big enough. But today the systems we run on are huge."

Elsewhere, Cutler competed successfully in the Toyota Atlantic Championships from 1996 to 2002, and today still owns part of a North Carolina auto racing team. He continues to refine the Windows operating system on almost a daily basis.

View Cutler's official press profile.