2:25 PM -- If anyone had told me last year that I would be chatting it up on the phone with Microsoft's Stephen Toulouse (a.k.a. Stepto) about his old Windows IRC server getting hacked, or with Michael Howard, Microsoft's senior security program manager, about how his team missed the .ANI bug in Vista, I would have laughed so hard that I'd have blown milk out of my nose. If I drank milk. (See Microsoft's 'Stepto' Gets Into the Game and Microsoft's Happy Bugfinder.)
There were months this past year at Dark Reading when all I got from Microsoft, if anything, was a canned PR response to my security inquiries. And the email would usually arrive, conveniently, long after I had posted my story. It was déjà vu that sent me (way) back to the days when I covered IBM in its National Security Agency phase, where you never got past PR and your only sources were industry analysts who swore they had an inside track.
So Microsoft's recent about-face snuck up on me, first with a couple of unprecedented "reaching out" moments from them, and then, before I knew it, access.
Now I know things about Microsoft's key security guys. Mundane things. Quirky things.
Like Stepto has a dental phobia: "It's not the office, the chair, or anything other than the scraping sensation... I can't stand it. It drives me insane."
And Howard is a former rugby player originally from New Zealand. And at 42, he's feeling as buff as ever: "I have more energy, and I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," he says. "I have to keep up with two 'monkeys' [kids], so I don't want to be a slob watching football and drinking beer."
Stepto, a self-proclaimed gaming addict, sees no point in participating in a virtual playground like Second Life if you're just going to be yourself. He'd rather be a science fiction character. "I'm boring enough in real life. Translating me into a virtual life is kind of meta-boring."
Neither Stepto nor Howard own iPods. Stepto uses his smartphone to play tunes, and Howard, a Windows Media Audio player.
Apple, care to comment?
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading
Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)