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Microsoft fesses up

© October 2005 Tony Lawrence

The gist of it is simple: in 2004 Microsoft came face to face with what I and lots of other folks suspected about Longhorn: it was a plate of ugly spaghetti that was never going to work. Microsoft sucked in its gut and threw the whole thing out, starting over from scratch. Finally we know the reasons behind the mysterious sliding release dates: it all went in the dumpster and they had to start fresh.

Microsoft says that the new Vista is clean and simple from the ground up. But there's a telling quote in there from Chairman Gates, who said:

It's obviously my role to ask people, 'Hey, let's not throw
things out we shouldn't throw out. Let's keep things in
that we can keep in.'

Yeah. Pour a healthy dose of the same old polluted water into fresh new drinking glasses and what do you get? Why, it's the "Windows Experience" all over again, isn't it? Well, only time will tell what this beast really looks like after all the crap they can't live without gets bolted back on, but my bet is that they'll be broken again before they get it out the door.

Here's another interesting quote from the article:

Mr. Allchin's reforms address a problem dating to Microsoft's
beginnings. Old-school computer science called for methodical coding
practices to ensure that the large computers used by banks,
governments and scientists wouldn't break. But as personal computers
took off in the 1980s, companies like Microsoft didn't have time
for that. PC users wanted cool and useful features quickly. They
tolerated -- or didn't notice -- the bugs riddling the software.
Problems could always be patched over. With each patch and enhancement,
it became harder to strap new features onto the software since new
code could affect everything else in unpredictable ways.

Hello Bill? What's changed? You still don't have the time, so you'll still be adding new bugs in your fever to get new features to users. Maybe Allchin managed to deliver a clean start, but your programmers will muck it up immediately.

Make sure to send your Windows buddies a link to this. They won't want to read it, but I think it might be good for them.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Tue Oct 4 10:40:08 2005: 1160   Michael

I have seen a few references to it. For example, John Gruber had it in his "Linked List" at Daring Fireball:


And the guys at Rixstep wrote a very funny spoof of it:


Frankly, I think it is a PR stunt from Microsoft. Seriously. I think Windows is now so widely known to be a disaster area that it has become an embarrassment to the Vole. As you've often observed, Windows is a security nightmare that is probably unfixable now. OK, it still has the desktop market, but the cracks are starting to appear. How much longer can it go on? The stock is plummeting; key employees are leaving; moles are blogging their discontents:


The WSJ article is an act of desperation. Admit that Windows is a disasater area - because it's already obvious - and assure people that Vista will be different. The WSJ article is an attempt to draw a line under the past.

Gates, Ballmer, and their shills like Rob Enderle and Paul Thurrott are already making the most ludicrous claims on behalf of Vista. Sorry, guys, it won't wash.

Tue Oct 4 10:52:19 2005: 1161   TonyLawrence

I liked those links, thanks.

Maybe you are right about Microsoft's PR here, but it's a big, big risk regardless. Even without this admission, Microsoft implicitly promised that Longhorn/Vista would be safe, secure, and the answer to everything that is wrong with Windows. Screw that up, and they have a big glob of gooey egg all over their faces. But now with this admission - everything we did before was crap - if Vista stumbles, there's nowhere to turn: they've already admitted that the old Windows was junk, and if the new one is too, what then?

Scary times for the Redmond boys. May they suffer greatly..

Tue Oct 4 13:07:10 2005: 1162   anonymous

This quotation from the article struck me:
The best of the programs from rivals were like Lego blocks -- they had
a single function and were designed to be connected onto a larger whole.

Microsoft finally gets the 35 year old philosphy of Unix.


Tue Oct 4 13:40:38 2005: 1163   MikeHostetler

Actually, if they did throw the whole thing out and started again, it would be a big leap back for them. Yes, Windows is broken now, but it can do somethings.

Joel On Software has an interesting bit on why a total rewrite is bad. I agree tend to agree with his thinking:


Tue Oct 4 17:31:54 2005: 1164   TonyLawrence

I agree with Joel, but..

Microsoft doesn't have the luxury of time. They should have been fixing their junk all along as Joel says, and maybe they were, but they were adding new stuff so fast that they couldn't keep it working.

Starting over is bad for another reason: as this article suggests, there is a lot of old stuff that they just cannot throw away and that stuff HAS to be bolted back on to the new kernel. Further, the big third party application folks and even some big customers with in-house software are going to scream bloody murder if their code breaks because of Vista. That can lead to very real threats of dropping Microsoft outright, because (just like Brian White said over at (link) ) if you have to have significant pain anyway, it may be time to look at the alternatives. Apple and Linux are sitting there, ready to be used, and if Vista makes things tough, it might just be the ideal time to shuck the Redmond crowd for good.

Vista could kill Microsoft.

Tue Oct 4 18:57:30 2005: 1165   drag

I agree with Michael there. I think it's a good dose of bullshit on the part of Microsoft.

They tried a 'managed code' (.NET code stuff) rewrite of big parts of Windows. Stuff like the Explorer and such. WinFS was all going to be managed code. Avalon was going to be managed code. etc etc This is the stuff that was going to replace Win32 API and create the stable and secure OS that everybody has been dreaming of, I guess.

However after 2 years of developement and rewrites it turned out that:
1. .NET/managed code isn't mature enough for OS developement.
2. The computers needed to run it with decent speed won't exist for another 3-5 years.

So they scrapped it.

At least that's the impression that I get. For proof you'd have to get some Microsoft developer to admit it. But if you look at the earlier literature surrounding the hype around Longhorn you'd see many mentions of Managed Code and how it will make buffer overflows obsolete and so on and so forth. Now you won't see any mention of it what-so-ever.

Managed code rewrite dead. WinFS dead. Avalon dead, with the promise of future add-on pack for Windows Vista AND XP (big differences, eh?), so on and so forth. Every promise broken, all the hype gone.

Now all Vista has is this fancy compositing GUI that is similar to what Linux currently has had in a limited fasion and OS X has had since 2000 and this suposed 'Hey lets rewrite Windows Vista with Its-the-new-Microsoft technics!' stuff.

Mon Nov 7 02:16:10 2005: 1294   anonymous

Does anyone have a copy of this article somewhere? I failed to save one for myself and now SmartOfficeNews seems to have taken the article down. There's no trace of this website in the Internet Archive; the Google Cache was overwritten with the 404 page and searches for 'allchin', 'broken' and 'windows' don't yield anything at SON's website.

Mon Nov 7 10:42:53 2005: 1295   TonyLawrence

It's a conspiracy. Bill has told all media to remove any trace of this so that Microsoft can deny every admitting anything like this.

Seriously, the WSJ article is surely still there, though of course they want an email sign-up.

Thu Feb 9 12:57:57 2006: 1616   TonyLawrence

Someone noticed a broken link:

Unfortunately, the article you link to in your "Microsoft Messes Up" post at Smart Office News of Australia gets a 404.

However, the full text is available at the WSJ:



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