back to article NT daddy turns his hand to Xbox

Ex-DEC VMS code king Dave Cutler, who moved to Microsoft to drive the development of Windows NT and later focus on Azure, is working to evolve the Xbox into a "complete home entertainment device". Dave Cutler Microsoft Fellow Dave Cutler Cutler's NT code is at the heart of all Windows builds today. He is a Senior Technical …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    will there be Xbox clustering?

  2. jake Silver badge

    How the mighty ...

    ... have fallen.

    Hopefully, this signals Dave's split from Microsoft ... The world of computing would be a much better place today if Dave had struck out on his own after the management debacle that ended DEC.

    1. petur


      W2K and it's kernel were actually quite nice, certainly compared to what they produced before (and to a certain degree, after too)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Yes, petur, fallen.

        Read the rest of mine for content, please.

        Win2K was the best OS Microsoft ever published. Then Marketing took over the VMS team, and it was all over. Now the best OS designer on the planet is coding for a game and advertising platform. Disgusting, if you ask me.

        1. crowley


          Yep, Win2K is their only OS that didn't make me want to punch someone.

          1. TeeCee Gold badge

            It never made me want to punch someone either.

            It did make me want to beat the living shit out of my computer though.....

            I found XP to be vastly superior and it didn't take four ruddy Service Packs before it became usable too.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              XP vastly superior?

              you must be aged 51/2 then

              1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                Re: aged 51/2

                Either that or he spent five seconds looking for the "no teletubbies, please" check box and then got on with plugging in his USB devices.

                2K was a significantly smaller OS, which mattered when XP first came out, but eventually the world of hardware just left it behind.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          "...Now the best OS designer on the planet is coding for a game and advertising platform. Disgusting, if you ask me..."

          Do games have no worth? It seems you're being rather snobby about some of the most highly performing and complex hardware and software stacks that exist, just because they don't do something you approve of.

          1. jaynicks


            CMS copied to VMS copied to NT.

            Designer? Snort.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "the best OS designer on the planet"?

          That's a bit rich, unless you believe, as redmond does, that all the world is redmond. That this isn't true demonstrates mr. Cutler himself, as he is a well-known unix hater. For if all the world equals redmond, then logically unix cannot exist. Yet here we are, and it does.

          Note that this is not about your assessment of the quality of their produce, only about the bit where you extrapolate from "made the best thing redmond ever published" to "the best OS designer on the planet". I can think of a few people whose designs I admire more, and no, that's well before considering linus or the gn00 crowd either.

          1. hplasm
            Thumb Up

            If it was true-

            PCs would be running VMS.

            1. Ilgaz

              Bad news

              90% of them run Vms with win gui, 9% run mach/ Unix/ next hybrid and 1% Linux/gnu hybrid. If you look to engine room under fancy gui and branding.

              It is the design philosophy/ basics that really differs.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Buffer overflows and fragmented pagefiles


                VMS didn't suffer from the number of buffer overflows that NT did, because strings were passed by descriptor (the VAX calling standard). VMS pagefile fragmentation was addressed in the early 1980s with the best_try_contiguous file attribute

                1. Ilgaz

                  Of course, not pure

                  Mac and win had to cave in for commercial reasons, I don't say you run next when you run Mac today, that purity exists theoretically when you run Darwin and window maker.

                  Hfs+ has no place on next either or those massive b tree files and forks.

                  I am talking about basic design philosophy is carried.

          2. eulampios

            agreeing with that on the most

            >>that's well before considering linus or the gn00 crowd either.

            What is OS then? If it is a kernel, then gnu has no OS yet. As far the utilities and apps are concerned are here any better ones than the gnu-ed ones? Even apple uses bash.

            Linus' creation is not really his, thanks to thousands of developers. No other kernel project has this power, not even mighty M$. That is why when some company needs to create its new OS it puts it on the LInux kernel, not VMS/NT Darwin or even *BSD.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Er, eulampios,

              the point rather was that I wasn't considering these "obvious" alternatives at all. In parts exactly because it might give rise to that sort of argument.

        4. CheesyTheClown

          I disagree and disagree again and again

          Windows 2K was definitely great. It was a big enough rewrite of the NT kernel that it was impressive. It included major features such as the ability to gain hardware access without having to write major layers of code between cryptic drivers and terrible user land code. It made all kinds of things possible. What was best was the introduction of the windows driver model... which although today is burried under a million tons of often unreadable abstractions was fantastic... I loved how it finally made developing drivers for classes of devices much simpler... assuming the class was already part of the WDM DDK.

          Windows XP fixed huge problems with the Windows 2K kernel. It was the only version of Windows which had a reliable system scheduler (assuming you were willing to write kernel code) and made it possible to get sub-millisecond latency for task switching for real-time applications... something utterly impossible on Windows 2K. There were bugs... but the XP kernel was a feature kernel which made programming multimedia apps a dream compared to earlier releases. It also added a much needed upgrade to the networking stack.

          The XP kernel was definitely evolution on the 2K kernel though. The Vista kernel had the ability to be great, but gave up way to much stability and performance in exchange for massive amounts of features. They were needed and Windows 7 is finally back to where XP was on all fronts except real-time programming.

          Windows 8 will be a total dream... but it'll piss people off all across the board. Especially since Microsoft has now joined the kernel code compiler with the user code compiler and as a result has "upgraded C++ to a first class citizen" as they said in the build conferences. Seeing that nearly everyone was hacking C++ into their drivers anyway, it's a good thing, but it means that eventually, there will be much more C++ code in the kernel itself. This isn't a bad thing itself, but it mean there's a chance eventually that certain kernel APIs won't be accessible except through a C++ or COM ABI which will be annoying. It's also possible that there will be kernel services that driver developers depend on which will be C++ instead of C which can cause huge problems for developers coding drivers for multiple platforms.

          Vista was a distaster... but from a kernel perspective which is precisely what we're talking about in this case, Microsoft has been pretty damn good about improving over time. From an OS perspective overall? I have never seen anything past the kernel and its ability to start another process as being the OS... the shell and everything else is little more than applications on top of the operating system.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. eulampios


            I did not downvote your interesting and informative comment, however...

            With all that there is still one big problem: whatever proprietary kernel is practically not modular.

            If modularity is there, it could only be accessible to a handful of M$ developers.

            Whereas, any other free and open kernel is modular, even Mac OSX -- the Darwin.

            Availability of the feature when you can cd to you favorite branch (v3.0 of Linus' git tree in my case), git cherry-pick commits you like revert whatever you dislike for the NT kernel is akin discovery of intelligent life on Venus.

            Linus and RMS are the men!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    working to evolve the Xbox into a "complete home entertainment device".

    So, he's going to figure out how to install linux on it?

    1. Turtle


      "working to evolve the Xbox into a "complete home entertainment device. So, he's going to figure out how to install linux on it?"

      Oh, you forgot to use the "Joke Alert" icon; if you had, then the people who upvoted your post would have realized that you were joking.

      1. zanto


        just registered my upvote. chew on that!

  4. Alex Walsh

    Add Boxee to the apps and his work is done.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow, thats a toughie

    1) Download XBMC.

    2) Install XBMC.

    3) Retire to pub.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      can't install XBMC on the current 360 releases or I'd have it on there right now and never need to have my main box doubling up as a media centre.

      Nice idea though...

  6. K. Adams

    So Microsoft is going to start building...

    ... a PC? Other people already do that.

  7. David Austin

    There's been talk and rumours of "Xbox Home Server" For ages, so this is consistent with that outline.

    It does have some merit, I guess - make something a little more like an Apple i* - more appliance than PC, for simplicity and ease of use, trumping customization....

  8. Hooksie
    Thumb Up

    Could be interesting

    This guy is obviously a genius (or at least as close as you can get) so if he's really on board with the XBox team and is allowed to help drive the design of the hardware as well as the OS then he could help produce something that EVERY home will want, not just a (relatively) few gamers. Even technologically inept people realise now that an internet connected TV is the way things are going and Microsoft obviously want people using their kit. As a PS3 owner I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: internet connected TV

      Lets see - PC has HDMI, TV has HDMI, TV is now Internet connected. There must be something I'm missing about how special/different/new this is to make it the next big thing.

      1. toadwarrior

        Depsite the fact MS got where they want due to PC openness they hate it. The benefit of the xbox is it's locked down tight. Tighter than anything Apple has done. The more the xbox grows the more control they have and they can charge you a subscription fee for their heavily filtered internet access.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "There must be something I'm missing about how special/different/new this is to make it the next big thing."

        Yep. You're missing the certified Microsoft-dependent ecosystem and MS's deal-making law-breaking capability that has got MS where they are today.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm confused

    I thought that the xbox was basically an intentionally crippled NT PC reworked into a console.

    So Cutler is going to undo the intentional limits of its design and invent -- what? A general purpose PC?


    1. Turtle


      "I'm confused. I thought that the xbox was basically an intentionally crippled NT PC reworked into a console. So Cutler is going to undo the intentional limits of its design and invent -- what? A general purpose PC? Wow."

      You're right. You ARE confused.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: the hardware as well as the OS

    What makes you think a software guy is going to have any hardware skills?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Kidz these dayz. Sheesh!

      If you would take just a minute to research the symbiosis between VMS and the VAX, the answer would immediately become clear

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd much rather see

    I'd much rather see him devote his undoubted skills to doing something exciting AND useful with RaspberryPi or similar.

    Of course, the point about being a Microsoft Fellow is not primarily that you are doing useful things for Microsoft and their customers, it is primarily that you are NOT doing anything at all to help any potential MS competitor.

    "What makes you think a software guy is going to have any hardware skills?"

    Fair question. Your average software guy doesn't have hardware skills. Cutler isn't your average software guy,

    1. Chemist

      "Your average software guy doesn't have hardware skills"

      Maybe not but he will know what he would really like to do and can ask the hardware people to consider possible solutions - think of blitters and barrel shifters etc.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Wensleydale Cheese

      "Your average software guy doesn't have hardware skills. Cutler isn't your average software guy,"

      True and anyone who has written large chunks of OS level software which talks directly to hardware needs to have a good understanding of how that hardware works.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That too ...

        Assembler was the language du jour for that when I were a lad. We had a pretty damned good idea how the electronics worked.

        Indeed, electronics was my first love and was how I first and foremost got into software and computers in the first place.

    4. jaynicks

      Insight, tremendous insight

      Who killed Desktop RSTS in 1979 from manfacturing prototypes and ran off to Microsoft? Called PCs/desktops a senseless packaging exercise? The guy has real grasp of people and hardware and the cybernetic loop, indeed, not.

      Coulda shipped before Estridge/IBM, with Basic (interpret/complie), CoBOL, ForTran, DBMS, WP, and 40K available software packages competing with an 8086 with an assembler and a truly unbelievably bad BASIC.

      Coulda been a contenda.

  12. Doug 3

    I smell a fork

    it would guess that Microsoft forked W2K when they did the XBox and have not kept it updated because as a game console it's multi-tasking of processes and resource usage wasn't of much concern given the tightly controlled gaming API's and single tasking nature of a "game console". Now, Microsoft wants the "game console" to also do TV and DVR functions, network streaming, social media events, etc. So maybe Dave is getting called in to help bring the aging W2K kernel up to date for this.

    Or the next version of the XBox is going massively parallel(CPU or GPU or both) and again, the kernel needs rebuilding.

  13. Mark Dowling

    For more on Cutler

    Read "Showstopper" (ISBN 0-7515-1629-5). I just happen to have it on my desk :)

  14. Sandy Ritchie


    Is this groundhog day?

    There was me thinking I could fire up my 2006/7 vintage Xbox 360 and with the current updates I can...

    A. Play games. (standalone or online)

    B. Communicate with friends.

    C. Play music

    D. Play Movies

    E. Stream content from my Pogo drive (music/movies/TV shows).

    F. Access On-Demand content (netflix/youtube etc, iplayer)

    G. Bing t'interweb.

    Ok so to me knowledge I can't surf online, bu then thats what my netbook/fondleslab/phone are for.

    So what additional content could I expect to make my Xbox360 more "media" orientated?

  15. Ilgaz

    What can he do?

    A console became media center? Fine but how can that company stand the idea of a full remote control for android shipping on android market? Seriously, they don't even release a live messenger client for android, they use a puppet/ officially licensed company.

    A full feature remote for android matters since xbmc has one.

    Cutler, who is a genius who saved Microsoft with his NT should really sit and speak to them again, perhaps they can listen to him and understand what kind of an universal device with support for standards (including matroska/mkv) people expect. Hope they don't confuse themselves with Apple. Only Apple can sell Apple TV with such specs. People using Microsoft products have no such patience or understanding.

  16. Christian Berger

    It's tragic in some way

    I mean he came from VMS and built the NT kernel so it would be like VMS. However there's very little of it left in actual Windows. After all most Windows systems are run as single user systems with the user being administrator. All those nifty security features are useless when the browser offers you to execute any file you download from from the Internet.

    Advanced operating design in games consoles probably might be interresting, however there's little money in that. Most likely you'll end up with a simple loader, which is heavily "secured" by code signing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      How many VMS servers are/were there, how many Windows NT series servers are there, just at this moment in time?

      The use of workstations tends to promote single user use, the use of admin accounts is changing, pretty quickly as since Vista you've been forced to use a standard user by default.

      I also think that games console OSes are rather more complicated than you realise.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What makes you lot think that this announcement has anything to do with the current xBox 720 it is more than likley the one after this call it the 1440(as they just seem to unimaginatively double the last number).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me?

    or does anyone else want OpenVMS running on a 360?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It might be just you.

      Those that want VMS running on modern hardware would probably have wanted it on some subset of x86-64 systems (easiest for HP to support if they've got HP badges, probably Proliant) to avoid upsetting the certified Wintel-dependent IT people. Tricky if you're a Dell fan.

  19. Stuart Dole

    Anyone remember RSX-11M?

    Fairly early on I was writing device drivers for RSX-11M for medical imaging and lab automation. The RSX distro came with the complete source files to the OS - you had to recompile the whole thing to add a driver (!). Browsing through the OS sources and looking at the change logs was incredible - Cutler wrote practically the whole thing himself, in a very short period of time. And the code quality and real time design was even more incredible. It was so lean and interrupt-aware - I had data logging at 10kHz (we never missed a clock), with a lab full of people on terminals doing (very early) word processing. Cutler's legacy was clouded by the strange beast that VMS became, IMO.

    A friend in another department ran UNIX on a much faster machine, but it couldn't even keep up with the line clock at 60Hz - the system clock drifted. In those days at least, the UNIX kernel pretty much ignored interrupts. So, the UNIX machine was a bust for real time lab work, but their productivity in other areas was a lot better than ours - while I wrote in MACRO-11 assembler and Fortran, they had this fancy new language called "C"...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cutler's most elegant project?

    In terms of technical elegance and pioneeringness, Cutler's eventual best DEC project was probably VAXELN, a distributed realtime kernel for VAX (with VMS as development host) which had features way ahead of its time. But it was a bit niche and predates the Internet so there's not much out there written about it [1]. Parts of its design are actually visible inside the original NT kernel - at least as visible as the alleged VMS heritage, in fact, if you understand the internals of both.

    Thanks to the small number of really good people on the VAXELN development team post-Cutler, the user experience with VAXELN as it matured (eg V4.4) was much nicer than the early experience but the basic concepts underneath weren't greatly different.

    "I wrote in MACRO-11 assembler and Fortran, they had this fancy new language called "C".."

    Someone wasn't looking "outside the box"? The user group, DECUS, would have provided (for not much more than cost of media) stuff which would have moved your development productivity closer to the UNIX folks, maybe beyond.

    For FORTRAN, e.g. there were extended versions of Kernighan's (as in K+R) RATFOR preprocessor. DEC's own FORTRAN IV and FORTRAN 77 each had their own advantages and disadvantages. For quiche eaters desiring Pascal, the list included Tanenbaum's Amsterdam Pascal for free, and at least two commercial Pascals (OMSI, UCSD).

    There was C too. For free, there was at least DECUS C. There was at least one commercial offering from Whitesmiths (who decided that K+R's IO wasn't for them and nor was K+R's string-handling. Odd).

    We shall not see those days again. Of course, sensible people will be quite happy never to see overlays again.

    [1] A few paragraphs of user-contributed intro, with a link to DEC's own VAXELN Technical Summary:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The DECUS libraries

      The DECUS libraries are still online at

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        DECUS still online? Didn't know that (though admittedly I've had no need to look).

        I'd love to find the DECUS SIG tape library routine (in FORTRAN) routine that did RSX-time to text, such that 15:40 became "twenty to four in the afternoon".

        It was specially coded such that every now and again 15:40 (or whatever) became "the big hand is on the four and the little hand is on eight".

        A well known search engine finds something similar to "the big hand is on" in BASIC, embedded within something I don't really understand. Based on the URL it came from the RSX SIG tapes in 1986:

        Happy days.

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