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Windows Server 2003 SP1 and X64 Editions – A Historical Perspective

Greetings!  My name is Clyde Rodriguez (pretty unusual name for a guy of Mexican American decent, but yep, that’s my name). I am a Group Program Manager in the Windows division here at Microsoft and have been with the Windows team almost 10 years (!!), the last four of which I’ve had the privilege of running the Windows x64 project. I also took ownership of our efforts to build Windows Server 2003 SP1 soon after the Windows team shipped Windows Server 2003 in March of that year.

And what an exhilarating ride it has been… Back in my college days just before joining Microsoft I took a computer architecture course at UC Berkeley from David Patterson, a man who is as much a brilliant computer scientist (he literally wrote the book on computer architecture) as he is an incredible educator (and the university has recognized him as such). Dr. Patterson ended the course with a memorable lecture with career advice for his students as they headed out into the “real world.”  One thing he said that resonates strongly in my work with x64 was that very few of his students would ever get a chance to work on a new computer architecture. If the time came, it would be extremely special. (Here’s a link to his slides from that semester:

His words proved prophetic in my experience driving the Windows team’s work on x64, a remarkable new architecture that will give every day people unprecedented computer power on their desktops. It will also give companies of all shapes and sizes a powerful new foundation for high performance servers as well. It has been a great thrill working on this historic effort.

Just days ago on March 30th, years of work culminated in our final release to manufacturing of Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and also Windows Server 2003 SP1 for x86 and Itanium. While it’s cool to see a brand new platform come to life, I’m also excited about the service pack release as well. We have done a ton of work to give customers even better security, reliability, performance than what we delivered in the original Windows Server 2003 release.

What many of you likely do not know is that this is the largest Windows release ever in Microsoft’s history. We produced 88 unique CD images (for English and German) for the combined x64 and SP1 release. By comparison, when I worked on Windows NT 4.0 we released just three CDs! And we still have dozens more to go as we release over two dozen languages in the coming weeks.

There were numerous milestones and memorable events leading up to this day.

Sometime in 2001 – I met with Brian Valentine, our Sr. VP in charge of Windows, who asked that I take on running the x64 project. He points over to Dave Cutler’s office nearby and says my job will be to make sure Dave is happy. Brian lets out a good laugh. The reason was pretty obvious: Dave is a legendary figure in the computer industry – and, more pertinent at that specific moment, well-known for being a tough guy to please. I greatly admire that fact about him – he sets a very high bar for excellence that has set the tone for the Windows NT group since its founding in the late 80s. That said, I’m also known as a guy who doesn’t shy away from a tough challenge. “Alright, Brian,” I said. “You’re on.”

Later that day I met with Dave, who initially wasn’t too happy with the idea of working with a program manager and hence gave me a rather colorful assessment of Brian’s idea. I told Dave that if he was willing to give it a shot, he could count on my absolute dedication to the project’s success. If within a few weeks he felt I was not delivering on that commitment I would personally withdraw from the project and not waste another day of his time. He agreed, and I walked back to my office contemplating whether I had just made a serious CLM (Microsoft-speak for “career limiting move”).

The next few months were eventful as Dave and I adjusted to each others style. Eventually we developed an effective relationship that I think was crucial to the project’s success. His technical leadership and brilliance has had a profound impact on all that we have achieved with this release. In many ways our working relationship is unusual given that I’m generally soft-spoken, a style that contrasts heavily with Dave’s overtly (though and in many ways inspiring) passionate demeanor. As the development team soon learned however, that calm style quickly changes the moment we uncover a new project risk or hear of customer concerns. People soon learned to be on top of them immediately before they truly impacted the project’s schedule or more importantly its quality.

Here are some other memorable moments:

October 25, 2001:  Forrest Foltz, one of our core x64 architects, announces an important milestone in the platform’s evolution. He and Dave had been working on architectural simulators before we received actual hardware from AMD. On this day he is able to log on to a desktop for the first time on the simulator.

February 7, 2002 3pm: AMD delivers the very first x86-64 machine to reach Microsoft. The hardware proves incredibly stable, and even more amazingly, the 64-bit version of Windows that Dave, Forrest and others had worked on using simulators alone booted up flawlessly just two hours later. This historic moment was the beginning of accelerated progress in our efforts to build x64.

June 28, 2002:  We deliver our first Alpha release of the code to our early technical beta community. Many interim releases followed over the coming months.

September 21, 2002: We start self-hosting our x64 build process on the x64 OS itself! This is a crucial validation point and indicates the OS is stable enough on which to host its own evolution.

March 28 2003: Windows Server 2003 releases to manufacturing

April 9, 2003:  Microsoft announces plans to support AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 with a 64-bit native version of Windows (

April 10, 2003:  We officially kick-off the project as I convene the very first Windows x64 and Windows Server 2003 SP1 Ship Meeting, a gathering of about 50 project leads that is to continue virtually every weekday (and some weekends) at 9:30 AM until release.

April 18, 2003: We release a build for broad distribution at the 2003 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference

September 10, 2003:  We ship our first SP1 and Windows x64 beta release exactly on schedule. A few days later, our reliability analysis team posts record results for OS availability, and all on beta code!

Early 2004: the SP1 code base is adopted as the foundation for Longhorn development efforts. In my mind, this further validated SP1’s overall stability and potential.

August 6, 2004:  Windows XP SP2 releases

Summer 2004: Internal MS teams start using – in production — Windows Server x64 on 64-bit hardware for mission critical applications. This re-confirmed that we were producing rock solid code.

Also around this time, the Customer Preview (CPP) for x64 experiences great interest. If memory serves, we saw a 50% increase of Windows Server 2003 x64 beta software downloaded/shipped compared to previous 3 months.  This was timed with a CPP refresh supporting both 64-bit AMD and Intel processors.

Late 2004: our two processor partners, Intel and AMD, forecast that virtually all new PC and server shipments will be 64-bit capable by end of 2005, with roughly 90% of new servers running x64 chips. This re-confirmed what I had thought – that our Windows x64 release would hit the market at just the right time.

Around this time, MS announced our licensing policy for multi-core hardware (charge per proc, not per core). This licensing policy essentially meant customers and partners would benefit from our partners’ innovations at the same price.

December 6, 2004:  We ship Windows x64 and Windows Server 2003 SP1 Release Candidate 1, right on schedule per a plan announced in July

February 8, 2005:  Release Candidate 2 ships just one day off its original target

March 30, 2005:  The big day arrives – At about 5:15PM, Windows x64 and Windows Server 2003 Sp1 ships to manufacturing.

To be sure, the promise of x64 won’t come overnight. Nonetheless, the months and years ahead will be fascinating to watch as the seeds planted by this release start bearing fruit.

Clyde Rodriguez