Ed Fries is the co-founder of Xbox and Microsoft Game studios. He gave this talk in the video at the Seattle Hacker News meetup in January 2018. After the talk, I caught up with him for coffee to talk shop. Below the video are some of the interesting things we discussed. Ed is an old gaming consoles buff. You can read about the interesting things he is doing here: He also spends much of his time on on IGDA--one of their goals is to get more women and racial minorities into gaming.
Interesting Facts About Ed
He interned at Microsoft in the summer of ’85 and started working full time in 1986. Charles Simonyi (famous for Excel, Word and Hungarian notation) was Ed’s As Appropriate interviewer and they later became good friends.
Ed introduced Bill Gates to Dave Cutler, the legendary Microsoft engineer and only Senior Technical Fellow who wrote the Windows NT kernel . Ed’s mother worked at DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) as a manager for Dave Cutler. He gathered from his mother that Dave Cutler was unhappy at DEC and let Bill Gates know. Bill then poached Dave who brought 30 people with him to Microsoft.
When Cutler joined Microsoft, he was super-cocky and felt that the Microsoft folks didn’t really understand operating systems and computer science. He dismissed PCs as toys and believed that unless you had worked on mainframes and minis you were not a real programmer. Ed, in turn, thought Dave was the one who was spoiled because when designing software for a mainframe you only have to worry about one machine. But when writing an OS like Windows you must make it work for hundreds of different kinds of machines. “That is the real magic in Windows. It makes lots of different kinds of machines appear the same to software” says Ed.
I asked Dave if he’d ever had a Bill review and been told “that is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard”. Luckily no, but he was at the 4-hour long Valentine’s day massacre (Feb 14 2000) when Bill berated the Xbox team for their decision to not run Windows on the Xbox. “This is an insult to everything we’ve ever done at the company” Bill fumed.
The Xbox team chose to have a minimal, ‘thin layer’ OS (instead of Windows) so that the games could have all of the CPU—part of the reason why the original Halo games had more realistic graphics than any other console at the time.
Ed is close friends with Charles Simonyi and was part of the group that saw him off during his first space trip. He was also aboard the 747 where Simonyi practiced the Zero-G drills before his trip, along with Martha Stewart. When Martha left prison in 2004, the CS in the CS-XXXX license plate of the plane that picked her up stood for Charles Simonyi!
Ed owns 7.5 bitcoin that he personally mined in 2009. At the time, he thought he’d blown $200 on a graphics card but these bitcoins were worth close to $100k at the $19k bitcoin peak.
Sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s he was walked into the copier/printer room to pick up one his code listings. The printer was jammed and standing in the room was only one other person. A newly hired receptionist. It was her first day at work. She introduced herself politely. Dave looked at her and retorted “are you the fucker who jammed the printer?”
The second I heard first hand from one of his direct reports who later became a corporate VP. Windows NT was about 2.5 years late and Bill Gates was starting to lose his patience. At a meeting he’d finally had it and asked Dave “Why is it taking so long? Is your team lazy or stupid or both?” Dave stared back at him for what seemed like an eternity and then shouted back angrily “Bill, let me tell you something. Don’t you ever call anyone who works for me lazy or stupid”. The tension was palpable, and it looked like they might come to blows but Paul Maritz (at the time Steve Ballmer’s peer) intervened and diffused it.
******* In the mid-2000’s I was an engineer on the Microsoft Exchange team and while debugging a security issue, had to go into the Windows Kernel. In one of the file headers was the following comment:
/* xx-xx-1990 Dave Cutler */
I guess they didn’t have source control back then. I felt like was looking at god’s code!