John Topley’s Weblog

Summer Madness

It looks like the silly season is upon us again. Respected PC Magazine columnist John C. Dvorak writes about Windows' security problems and implores Microsoft to spend some of its billions of dollars on fixing its software. Nothing wrong with that, good idea.

However, I think Microsoft already spend rather a lot of money on Windows development. Then he writes about how the development of Windows NT was rushed—I wouldn't call five years rushed—and says that compromises were made. Well of course compromises were made! It's not possible to create anything of any significance without making compromises. There are design trade-offs involved and the burden of having to be compatible with programs developed whilst many of the Windows NT developers were still at school. Any engineer knows that a good engineer is one who can find the best compromises.

Next, Dvorak goes on to write possibly the stupidest sentence that I've read all year: “But with $30 billion, couldn't a new architecture be designed that would break the OS into 10,000 parts, each of which could be coded in a few months, then put back together?” Slaps forehead! There's so much wrong with this question, that I barely know where to start, but I'll give it a go.

First of all, throwing money at a problem is not an automatic guarantee of success. Microsoft already have the lion's share of the brightest people in the industry and there's only so many of those to go around. And the ones they do have are almost certainly working flat out.

Secondly, it's generally acknowledged that rewriting from scratch is a bad idea, because you're throwing away accumulated knowledge. How would you even begin to specify 10,000 components that must collaborate to form a whole that would be able to run existing Windows software? Those components would have at least 10,000 ways of interacting with each other, and the real figure would be much, much higher. You would spend a lifetime on integration testing alone.

Moreover, how would you capture the essence of the good aspects of Windows whilst eliminating the bad? The product has evolved over twenty one years, something that cannot be short-circuited in a few months. Why doesn't Dvorak address these questions in his column? May I suggest a far better read about Windows security and security in general.

In another shining example of idiocy, Amazon e-mailed me this week to tell me that I recently purchased products related to website development, programming or databases. Evidently they're not quite sure which it is.

The e-mail went on to speculate that I might have my own website and would I be interested in joining their Associates Programme? The thing is, I'm already a member and have been since I started this site. They are aware of this, because they hassle me each quarter and ask me to select one of their byzantine payment structures. I guess they've yet to discover targetted marketing and joined up systems.

Comments

There are 2 comments on this post. Comments are closed.

  • avatar gv
    13 September 2004 at 15:09

    I'm not sure there is enough evidence either way on whether it is better to re-write software or not. Yes, Netscape lost their market, but would they have lost it anyway irrespective of the re-write?

  • avatar John Topley
    24 September 2004 at 19:07

    Probably, given Microsoft's desire to capture the browser market. The "whether to re-write" debate is certainly an interesting one.

Dvorak goes on to write possibly the stupidest sentence that I've read all year.


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