First of all, I need to say that I’m a bit crazy IT guy who strongly beliefs that he can change the world. This belief is based on several success stories I’ve read since I was a young kid – stories by Mark Twain, Jack London, biography of Bill Gates and videos and blog posts about Steve Jobs success; and several great teachers from middle & high schools, in university and in business school.
And, I have a dream: for a long time I want to have all the knowledge of the world in its digital form to live inside the virtual world.
This blog post will tell several (relatively short) stories of my life dedicated to the creation of Zet Universe, including:
- ThinkWeek Paper
- Microsoft Context Awareness Initiative
- NTO Incubation Team
- Windows 7 Touch Team
- Productivity Future Vision
- Project Universe
- Neocyte Labs
- Zet Universe
So, the story begins with WinFS.
“Bill Gates, in his own words: “There is a famous quest of mine called integrated storage, where you have not just a file system but more of a flexible object-type database: Things like your contacts, calendars, favorites, your photos, your music—and how you rate those things—are stored in a structured environment.” WinFS was this system, the next-gen underpinning to Windows, and it was planned as part of Cairo, the code name for Windows 95. It’s still a great idea. But making it happen? Not so easy.” (Bill Gates on WinFS, PCMag, 2008)
You can see that ideas of Integrated Storage are quite alive in our Context Storage that is a part of Zet Universe product.
As you know WinFS later was cut from Windows Longhorn, Windows Longhorn itself was reset in 2004, and Windows Vista never got WinFS at all. WinFS though WinFS itself was released as Beta and then as Beta Refresh in 2005.
Back in 2005 I’ve created a small unofficial group dedicated to WinFS evangelism in Russia; several slide decks, prototypes, blog posts etc. I’ve made a paper on creation of knowledge management software based on WinFS and published it at Microsoft’s Student Conference; talked with slides on multiple student conferences across several Moscow-based universities.
In the summer of 2006 the WinFS project was killed before its second Beta release.
For me it was a dream just killed by Microsoft, and when Bill Gates was last time in Moscow (October 2006), I’ve asked him a question about WinFS; he said that “WinFS will find itself reappeared in multiple Microsoft Products later on”, and eventually his was right – ADO.NET Entity Framework was born as part of WinFS, Microsoft Sync Framework, finally all hard work around Win32-support of BLOBs storage inside SQL Server 2008, 2008R2 and 2012 is all based on WinFS legacy.
In the summer of 2006 Alexander Lozhechkin (who was Evangelism Manager, DPE at Microsoft Russia back on that time) invited me to join his team as MACH student (MACH stands for Microsoft Academy for College Hires). I passed several interviews and tests, and my first working day was on January 9, 2007. That was the moment when I started to collect all information about WinFS I could ever find at Microsoft internally, including specs and bits; I even talked to Quentin Clark and several folks from old WinFS Team (btw Shishir Mehrotra is now YouTube VP at Google). I was totally crazy about bringing WinFS back to Windows team. I’ve even asked a few crazy questions on this topic to Steve Ballmer in the summer of 2007. I was young and passionate about WinFS; thanks that didn’t cost me my job :)
To summarize this section let me share my own post-mortem of WinFS. It’s quite short as it highlights root product problems.
As you can see I’ve made a research in order to better understand what was wrong with the implementation, strongly believing into the Integrated Storage Vision.
July 2007 was then time when new organization, Office Labs, was getting started inside Microsoft’s Business Division, and CIW was transformed into the new group, Envisioning Team. Russ was working in that new team.
So, Productivity Future Vision was directly influenced by our ThinkWeek paper, as Russ Burtner later said. Specifically the infinite desktop concept shown in the video was started with drawings we’ve made in the ThinkWeek paper.
MICROSOFT CONTEXT AWARENESS INITIATIVE
It is important to highlight that all these activities were done in spare time, often during nights and trips to US; they were not technically a part of my job at Microsoft.
NTO INCUBATION TEAM
At the time I was working in DPE team, and was continuing these activities in spare time, as before.
After my second trip to US I’ve formed a small incubation team called “NTO Incubation Team” to build a prototype of Augmented Reality-based application for Windows 7 as a proof-of-concept. This team included my good old friend Alexander Popov (who is now working at Microsoft) and Vladimir Borisov, who was the key engineer behind the project. Our project was supported by Director of Engineering from Windows team (who originally commented our ThinkWeek Paper); the project was later shown to MSR CVP Dan Ling (as one of Russian NTO projects) and to Windows 7 CVP (Bill Mitchell) and got good reviews.
Thanks to recommendation from Dan Ling I received an invitation for a meeting with Mary Czerwinski, Research Area Manager of VIBE Team, back in May, 2009, so I made my third trip to the US.
WINDOWS 7 TOUCH TEAM
PRODUCTIVITY FUTURE VISION
That was the moment when the original “Project Universe” started.
ZET UNIVERSE, INC.
(Zet) Universe was presented by me as a possible direction for Digital Work Environments at UX Russia 2010 conference right a week after end of my internship as HCI Researcher at Microsoft Research. I’ve got several positive reviews but at the same time was finalizing my interviews with Google so I put my activities on hold for some time. In November of 2010 I’ve been invited to join Greenfield’s Harvest 11/10 (a startup weekend-like event) and presented a project inspired by Universe but designed in the form of the web browser. We’ve got first place in the competition and I’ve got my first co-founder, Elena Goidina.
That’s how Universe (later Zet Universe) started in its current form. Yet the story of Zet Universe’s development is a completely different one, so it is not included in this post, but you can see it being posted in this blog anyway.