Mac Lab: Questions and Answers

Wow. There are quite a few comments and email feedback on my last post and some great questions too. Let me try to answer some of them. First and foremost…

Question: What does it sound like when you reboot all those Macs at the same time?
Answer: Very cool. It’s the most interesting BONG you’ve ever heard. Each of the Macs boot just a bit ahead or behind the other, sort of in waves, so the bong keeps going for quite some time. At one point, I had “Victoria” speaking text when ever failures occurred in the OS restore process. When something bad happened you’d hear her speak the error message in the same kind of way. It was cool, but it totally freaked out people in the Sandbox area, so I removed it. πŸ™‚

Question: Are you going to be fired?
Answer: This question was actually from my Mom. Yesterday I was actually home sick in bed and the phone rings and it’s my Mom telling me I’m on the front page of or something like that. (I was a little groggy) Any how, she was reading through the comments on digg and wanted to know! So, for my Mom and everyone else, I’m typing this response in my humble office at Microsoft on my MacBook Pro, so, no, I am not going to be fired.

Question: Can we see a video or of the Mac Lab?
Answer: Actually, you can see some video, but you need to sift through a movie I posted earlier.

Question: Why is it that your system scales better with machines rather than CPU horsepower?
Answer: This is a great question and I think a very interesting discussion. I’ll try to answer this in another post.

Question: This is the Redmond Mac Lab, but what about the California Lab?
Answer: The part of MacBU that works in California indeed has a nice lab too. In fact we got the idea for the plasma display and training area from their lab! They had a projector setup and desks so people could see. We basically cut our racks in half to get the same effect. The Redmond Mac Lab is a bit bigger, but not by much.

Question: How long does it take to build Office with Xcode?
Answer: Good question. Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe later on I’ll be able to post about that. πŸ™‚

Comment: “these tapes work just great, except when they don’t.” They always fail when you need them most.. You guys should get a SAN and dump your backups on there.
Response: We actually recovered 95% of the data from a huge RAID server we had setup before the failure, so we were okay mostly. Apple XSAN stuff looks pretty cool. We might move to something like this in the future.

Question: Can you recommend a good training facility in Ontario Canada?
Answer: No, sorry. If you really want to learn about the Mac, I’d suggest getting one and reading what’s online. There’s lots of great stuff on the web.

Questions: “So I have three questions…1) what is your electricity bill for all those Macs πŸ˜‰ 2) do you have any insider info on when MS going to release a universal binary for Office and 3) do you do have any Powerbooks, iBooks or Macbooks in the lab?”

1) Our electricity consumption is classified. Sorry. πŸ˜‰
2) We ship Office every 2 to 3 years. I’ll let you calculate when we ship next. We’ve publicly said our next version will be Universal.
3) We have plenty of Mac laptops. They are hard to see in the photos I posted, but they are there. The day I took the photos I had moved them aside to setup a server scenario, so you don’t see them, but we’ve got ’em all.

Question: So what do you guys actually use to “drive” the automated tests of Microsoft office. Applescript? Or something home-grown?
Answer: Great question. This is a big part of what my team in particular does. This question deserves its own post. Stay tuned.

Question: I remember a story a while back about this being the one place where iPod usage isn’t frowned upon at Redmond.
Answer: Actually, we all got iPods as “ship gifts” when we shipped Office 2004. I personally believe MacBU was responsible for the whole, “Everyone at Microsoft has an iPod” story way back.

Question: How can I become a Mac Office beta tester?
Answer: This is asked enough I think I’ll answer this in a post.

Question: Where else have the Mac BU staff worked? Are most of them career ‘softies or have many of them come to the MacBU from other companies? If so, where else did they work?
Answer: That’s kind of a private thing to be sharing about others. Sorry, no answer on this one.

Comment: I notice you don’t have an Apple ][ integer machine like the one I have. For a year and a half, from August ’77 til January ’79 the only way to load or store data was an audio cassette tape. If you wanted to do decimal numbers you had to buy a floating point card.
Response: Good point. We don’t do much testing on the Apple ][

Comment: I think you could do with some PowerBooks/MBPs in your setup. as well as iPods πŸ™‚
Response: We make a point to purchase every major hardware revision Apple releases. When the iPod was announced, we actually got one for the Mac Lab! We said we needed it for File/Save testing. πŸ˜‰

Question: I am also quite interested in the general results of the testing. For example, do any/most issues you find just effect a certain version/language of OS X, or the issues are common across the lots of versions etc? (ie is the “test under every version of OS X” strategy uncover many issues, or just a couple here and there?) Have you had any cases where you have changed your testing methodology due to issues that _didn’t_ get picked up?
Answer: I’ll try to answer this in a later post. Great questions.

Question: Have you considered using NetBoot instead of bringing the OS down onto the computer?
Answer: Yes. In fact when we got the Mac OS Dev Preview 1, I had 21 Blue and White G3s booting from one of the server boxes. Since then we’ve been monitoring this very closely. When we do the cached local restore on average it takes about 15 minutes to switch OS builds, and there’s very little network traffic since the .dmg is cached locally. If anyone has got NetBoot or NetInstall working on this scale with this kind of performance, please email me. I’d love to chat.

Comment: “Man, if you guys are every hiring let me know. I wish I could hangup my job as a system engineer doing mostly all pc networks. I am mac addict to the core. And I have to say, you have an awesome job. I am jealous.”
Response: We are always looks for brilliant Mac folk. is the place for you to start.

Question: Paraphrased, “I’m 13 and I’d like to do an internship at MacBU. Can I?”
Answer: I think there are some child labor laws that we might have to work around here. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. Check out

Question: Why are you using blogger?
Answer: A couple of reasons: When I started the blog, I wanted to be able to include pictures. Back then the MSDN blogs didn’t support pictures. I also wanted something that was easy, simple and free. On a more personal note, I liked the way the blogger sites look in Safari. The other sites don’t always looks so hot in Safari.

Question: Why doesn’t X do Y? When are you ever going to fix Z?
Answer: For some deeper discussion on how to request bug fixes or feature improvements please check out:

Matt Linderman – Useless, absurd, must, need, appalled, just, infuriating, essential, etc.
Brent Simmons – How to manipulate me
Rogue Amoeba – Pistols At Dawn or How Not To Request A Feature

I’d add that if you want Apple to change something in their products, you should visit:
If you want to give feedback to MacBU there is a great place to do that as well:

Question: Have you ever considered using Xgrid with your system?
Answer: Yes we have. In fact, last summer the intern on our team and I looked into this. We still might use it, but a big part of automated testing isn’t so much the “distribution problem” that Xgrid solves as it is the “state management” of the machines. Something more like what Apple Remote Desktop does might be more interesting. We haven’t totally thrown out the Xgrid option, but right now we’ve got a working system and lots of testing to do every day. On the fun side of things, we actually had SETI@home running on all the machines while they were idle, which was fun to watch, as well as good for one of our team members SETI rank. πŸ˜‰

9 thoughts on “Mac Lab: Questions and Answers

  1. Realy interesting blog, cant stop reading it. It’s really interesting to find out what’s going on behind the scenes, and how everything kicks.Also a nice touch that you are postign answers to peoples questions.Keep up the great bloging πŸ˜€

  2. Do you think there’s any chance for a summer internship at Microsoft’s MacBU for a Freshman at college (CS major)? I would love it!

  3. Glad to see you’re staying busy at MS posting blog entries instead of getting things out the door. πŸ˜‰ Oh wait…I’m *commenting* on a blog entry at work…hum…Keep up the great work David.

  4. At least, as a user, I can answer to one question about multiple language testing.1Β° Yes, some local version have/had specific bug. This was the case for example with PPTvX French where you could not define a personalized default blank presentation2Β° Yes, it looks like the test script are focussing on English and Japanese scenarios. There are quite a number of issues with latin accents creating random behaviour for contextual spelling correction, even crash. More important, a lot of cross platform issues are accent conversion related between Mac and PC, so I guess, looking for upper ascii code is neither in the MacBU or WinOffice team scripts,…Funny enough, OpenOffice (born in Germany) embedded the correction for many of those bugs when dealing with Office conversion routine…Actually, I think this is not only an MacBU problem. Event Apple has problems here and there… and I mean bugs, not feature that never made it (like ink, voice, speak,…)Fortunately, the increasing number of spanish speaking user in the US might fix some of this…. even in terms of UI… what a pain to switch between language settings in Entourage, Word, PPT… Apple Mail, etc.One day, multilingism will go deeper in the natural way of thinking for all developers…

  5. Nice followup! Really enjoyed your tour and it’s cool to see you answering people’s questions. If you see Jesse W (SDE in the MBU) say hello for me πŸ™‚

  6. How many people do the Msn-Messenger development? One? Or maybe two…? πŸ˜‰ But your blog is very cool!

  7. Justifying iPod purchases for labs or IT support crew was done (in the Firewire days) by requesting for “emergency boot device, 10GB” or whichever size you needed to store all your emergency boot and troubleshooting files… πŸ˜‰

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s