Dinarte Morais

2008 Outstanding Technical Leadership
Morais is the key architect focused on security and software emulation for backward compatibility of Xbox Live and Xbox 360 games.

Lauded for his brilliant technical development work on many Microsoft projects since 1992, Distinguished Engineer Dinarte Morais has never been "the Exchange guy" or "the Internet Explorer guy" or even "the Xbox guy"—although he has put his indelible stamp on all three key products during his career at Microsoft. "I do it, I learn different techniques, I interact with different people, and I move on," Morais says during a well--deserved sabbatical in preparation for his next, still-unchosen project.

"Dinarte always takes on really difficult, really complicated projects," says Boyd Multerer, general manager of Xbox 360. "I've worked with Dinarte for quite a while, and he's definitely the best engineer I've ever worked with."

Morais's standout accomplishment to date has been his work on Xbox Live and Xbox 360, for which he designed the gaming field's most effective security systems. Toward the end of 2000, Morais began attacking challenges revolving around networking and security issues—including packet manipulation, encryption, and identification—for the Xbox Live service that was scheduled to ship two years later. But first, in order to secure Halo 1 for the system, Morais wrote a network security stack in a month. "It was one of my faster coding efforts," he recalls. "I work things out, figure what has to be coded, and then go into high-speed coding mode, almost a sprint." He then wrote the entire client stack for Xbox Live, which launched with virtually no bugs and has yet to be hacked.

Morais turned in an even more virtuoso programming performance for Xbox 360, laying out its entire security model from CPU silicon on up. Morais got a jump on the hardware by designing an Xbox chip simulator, called the S-Box, which mimicked every CPU instruction and cache hierarchy to a very deep level. Morais was able to run countless simulations so that the state-of-the-art security features he wanted could be written into the CPU itself. "Game developers should be thinking about their game, not security," he says.

Morais arrived at Microsoft after graduating from MIT and working for various start-ups in the Boston area. He was hired into the Ren & Stimpy team, a code name for what eventually became Outlook. Three weeks later, he was traded to the Exchange team—"for a feature," he jokes—where he designed and wrote the .pst (Personal Storage Table) format.

After Exchange Server 4.0 shipped in 1996, Morais needed a new project to sink his teeth into. The Internet was calling, and Morais recalls thinking, "I'm probably going to be using browsers a lot in the future, so I might as well get involved with them." He joined the Trident team working on Internet Explorer 4 and got involved in the layout engine (this combines Web content with formatting information and then displays the formatted content on the screen). With the browser wars then in full swing, Morais subsequently ensured that Internet Explorer 5 would outperform Netscape Navigator by increasing IE5's browsing speed by a remarkable 25 percent over IE4.

One of Morais's more daunting programming challenges involved engineering backward compatibility between Xbox 360 and Xbox. His team had to make software written for X86 and Invidia processors perform just as well on their more recent PowerPC and ACI equivalents. As their deadline loomed, neither Morais nor his team knew for sure whether their solution was viable. "This was a great technical challenge," he recalls. "No one was going to get fired over it, and the amount we learned going down that path was invaluable. What do you have to lose other than many weekends of work?"

View Morais' official press profile.