point/counterpoint: Windows is a mess

Point:  Randall Stross of NYTimes declares that Windows is an “obese monolith built on an ancient frame” and that “[t]he best solution to the multiple woes of Windows is starting over. Completely. Now.”

If Microsoft thinks it is too late to actually use Singularity or something like it, the company should take heart from Apple’s willingness to brave the wrath of its users when, in 2001, it introduced Mac OS X.

Counterpoint:  Joel on Software: the “single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make: …[decide] to rewrite the code from scratch.”

The idea that new code is better than old is patently absurd. Old code has been used. It has been tested. Lots of bugs have been found, and they’ve been fixed. There’s nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t acquire bugs just by sitting around on your hard drive. Au contraire, baby! Is software supposed to be like an old Dodge Dart, that rusts just sitting in the garage? Is software like a teddy bear that’s kind of gross if it’s not made out of all new material?      * * *

When you throw away code and start from scratch, you are throwing away all that knowledge. All those collected bug fixes. Years of programming work.

Stross’ work is vague, fast and loose on the details, and misleading:

Adding features, plugging security holes, fixing bugs, fixing the fixes that never worked properly, all while maintaining compatibility with older software and hardware — is there anything Windows doesn’t try to do?  Painfully visible are the inherent design deficiencies of a foundation that was never intended to support such weight.  * * *

Yawn, welcome to the world of maintaining a platform.   This is what we do.

Vista is the equivalent, at a minimum, of Windows version 12 — preceded by 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, NT, 95, NT 4.0, 98, 2000, ME, XP. After six years of development, … long enough to permit Apple to bring out three new versions of Mac OS X, Vista was introduced to consumers in January 2007.  * * *

As far as I know, the Windows dev team scrapped their XP code, and built Vista from the Windows Server 2003 codebase, a more secure and finely-combed code base.   Stross’ recitation of “Windows version 12” suggests that Vista must be crufty because, goddarn-it, look at how old it is! Twelve versions!  Must be obsolete, ya see?

Lastly, Stross’ suggestion that Microsoft take a play out of Apple’s book, relaunch your operating system with an entire new architecture (i.e. Mac OS X), is unrealistic.  Apple’s small market share permits it to make these nimble drastic moves (oh yeah don’t forget the G4/Intel switch too) and still keep its developers in the fold.   Steve Jobs is also a pied piper that could lead developers into the ocean.  Microsoft has to move MUCH lower, and has to work harder to gets its vast community of developer’s onboard.

2 Comments

  • gecko Says:

    Perhaps it is not the code behind vista that is flawed, but rather the ideas. hmmm . . . or for double the fun, perhaps both are flawed.

    also, MS did relaunch their consumer level operating system with an entirely new architecture back with windows 2000. XP and vista are both based on the NT technology which is why you no longer have to uninstall and re-install your tcp/ip stack when your internet connection goes down. In my opinion that was worth the re-write. the more spolsky i read, the more i realize how dated he has become. He develops for the past when desktop applications ruled the day and his imperatives do not apply across all shades of software development.

  • Selfish Crab Says:

    I actually have no opinion about Vista itself; I never actually used a computer with it running. I was just hoping that a NY Times tech columnist could at least get the facts right before running off his mouth like a slashdot troll.

    Spolsky’s Greenspun-esque essays can be grating, but I like that he sweats the small things. His web-based bug tracking software seems to be doing well.

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