Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More Developers != More Features

John Dvorak has published his normal provocative, incendiary ramble, this time about "The Great Microsoft Blunder", referring to Internet Explorer. As a developer, I can't help but scoff at the idea, as IE 4 was leages ahead of Netscape (and yes, that was before I joined the company). As a stockholder in Microsoft, I can't help but nod my head in agreement with some of his points. But the quote that I saw published around, that I want to take issue with is:
All the work that has to go into keeping the browser afloat is time that could have been better spent on making Vista work as first advertised.

Having watched the train-wreck that was Vista from the inside, I can tell you that not having IE would have don't virtually nothing to help Vista ship as advertised. Anyone who has read any modern management book (or lived in the trenches) more people does not equate to more features. IE may have pulled a few people off of Vista, but it impacted Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation many times more. Vista isn't neutered and delayed because of any lack of people. It is a mess because of middle management. In a large project, complexity is a logarithmic on connections. 3 projects is 2x as complicated as 2 projects.... roughly.

It gets worse. At least at the time I left (6 months ago), I saw very little evidence that the management of these failed projects was getting any kind of a slap on the wrist. The problem is that in an org that large with that my dependencies, it was impossible to tell which team was actually mismanaged, and which team just was dragged down by the other mismanaged teams.

Vista could never have been what was originally sold to audiences oh-so-many years ago. It was not even vaguely possible to deliver that pipedream. You just can't replace a simple, straightforward design with one filled with indirection and abstraction and claim that it will perform equivalently. Rather than building on top of successful designs, Vista was all about throwing what worked out the window and starting over. You can do that with a few parts of a large release and get away with it, but if you do that with too many components, then you just have a flailing juggernaught that doesn't know how to stand up on its own anymore.

Witness: Avalon, aka Windows Presentation Framework. This was supposed to revolutionize gui app development. Well... last I heard, it was still plagued by performance issue, and is really just a better WinForms. I've used WinForms... that isn't that hard.

Witness: WinFS. Just thinking about WinFS makes my blood boil. The core has some amazing ideas, and makes me drool with excitement, but the execution is so bad that I feel like I'm watching someone try to climb to the moon by hitching themselves up with their own bootstraps. Every time I look into what WinFS is today, they have redefined the mission, and every time it is less and less interesting. I've given up. The W3C's crazy Semantic Web idea has more likelyhood of having real impact that this mess.

Vista is full of goodness too. The new window manager will rock. I'll still just feel like I'm using Mac OS vCurrent-2, but it is getting there. There are a number of security fixes (far beyond the much lamented authorization pop-ups that everyone is talking about.) that I want on my desktop ASAP. And then there is IE7, which would matter to me if I didn't just use Firefox. Too little, too late.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And dont forget Indigo, which was about revolutionizing the whole network communication stack -- 7 years of development, rewrite after rewrite, bloated team, disconnected management, and arrogant architects -- you end up with complex and already obsolte protocols, unusable api, and barely a 0.1 version of what was promised.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, anyone who's taken the time to ramble through Frederick Brooks' "The Mythical Man-Month" would recognize the train-wreck-in-slow-motion MS Windows Vista has become. Funny that - I commented on MS Win2k before it reached the shelves, saying it was Microsoft's "Second System"; then I read his second edition, and found he'd said the same thing. What he'd say about Vista I shudder to think.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Indigo may not do much, but at least it has bestest, most rocket-science architecture ever. Right ? After all, that's what you'd expect after the many rewrites that were needed to get the architecture "just right". Talk about Architecture Astronauts ...

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a soon-to-be-former member of the Indigo development team [Grunts don;t make all that much in MSFT anymore, was time to pay the bills], I can definitely agree with the 'arrogant architects'. Microsoft managers and senior managers are so full of themselves it's not funny.

8:40 PM  

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