Anonymous MSFT developer admits Linux is faster than Windows

Anonymous MSFT developer admits Linux is faster than Windows

Summary: This shouldn't come as any great surprise, but Linux is faster than Windows, and at least one anonymous Microsoft developer is willing to admit it and explain why that's the case.


Linux is far faster than Windows. That's old news. It's why Linux runs 90 percent of the world's top 500 fastest supercomputers, while Windows runs 1 percent of them. What's new "news" is that an alleged Microsoft operating system developer recently admitted that Linux is indeed much faster, and explained why that's the case.


This anonymous, supposed Windows kernel programmer first made his comments on a Hacker News conversation thread. He then followed up with further comments on Marc Bevand's Zorinaq blog. Bevand is a senior software engineer for Adconion, who specializes in high-performance computing (HPC).

The alleged Microsoft developer opened by saying, "Windows is indeed slower than other operating systems in many scenarios, and the gap is worsening. The cause of the problem is social. There's almost none of the improvement for its own sake, for the sake of glory, that you see in the Linux world."

It's not that Windows developers don't want to improve their operating system's performance; the problem is that Microsoft's software development culture discourages improvements. The alleged programmer wrote:

Granted, occasionally one sees naive people try to make things better. These people almost always fail. We can and do improve performance for specific scenarios that people with the ability to allocate resources believe impact business goals, but this work is Sisyphean. There's no formal or informal program of systemic performance improvement. We started caring about security because pre-SP3 Windows XP was an existential threat to the business. Our low performance is not an existential threat to the business.

See, component owners are generally openly hostile to outside patches: If you're a dev, accepting an outside patch makes your lead angry (due to the need to maintain this patch and to justify in shiproom the unplanned design change), makes test angry (because test is on the hook for making sure the change doesn't break anything, and you just made work for them), and PM [project manager] is angry (due to the schedule implications of code churn). There's just no incentive to accept changes from outside your own team. You can always find a reason to say "no", and you have very little incentive to say "yes".

There's also little incentive to create changes in the first place. On linux-kernel, if you improve the performance of directory traversal by a consistent 5 percent, you're praised and thanked. Here, if you do that and you're not on the object manager team, then even if you do get your code past the Ob owners and into the tree, your own management doesn't care. Yes, making a massive improvement will get you noticed by senior people and could be a boon for your career, but the improvement has to be very large to attract that kind of attention. Incremental improvements just annoy people and are, at best, neutral for your career. If you're unlucky and you tell your lead about how you improved performance of some other component on the system, he'll just ask you whether you can accelerate your bug glide.

From where he sits, Microsoft is also losing its top talent to the competition. He wrote, "Another reason for the quality gap is that that we've been having trouble keeping talented people. Google and other large Seattle-area companies keep poaching our best, most experienced developers, and we hire youths straight from college to replace them. You find SDEs [Microsoft Software Development Engineer] and SDE IIs maintaining hugely import systems. These developers mean well, and are usually adequately intelligent, but they don't understand why certain decisions were made, don't have a thorough understanding of the intricate details of how their systems work, and most importantly, don't want to change anything that already works."

On top of that, he claimed, Microsoft "junior developers also have a tendency to make improvements to the system by implementing brand-new features instead of improving old ones. Look at recent Microsoft releases: we don't fix old features, but accrete new ones. New features help much more at review time than improvements to old ones. (That's literally the explanation for PowerShell. Many of us wanted to improve cmd.exe, but couldn't.)"

For sheer snark, it's hard to beat his thoughts on the NT File System (NTFS): "Oh god, the NTFS code is a purple opium-fueled Victorian horror novel that uses global recursive locks and SEH [Structured Exception Handling] for flow control. Let's write ReFs [ Resilient File System] instead. (And, hey, let's start by copying and pasting the NTFS source code and removing half the features! Then let's add checksums, because checksums are cool, right, and now with checksums we're just as good as ZFS [Z File System] ? Right? And who needs quotas anyway?)"

None of these "revelations" are really that new. Anyone who'd followed Mini-Microsoft, an anonymous insider's view of life in Microsoft's development cubicle farms, or has read comments from disgruntled ex-Microsoft developers such as Hamilton Verissmo, knows about Microsoft's development bureaucracy getting in the way of innovation. As Brian Cody, a former Microsoft engineer, told Forbes Magazine in 2012, being a successful Microsoft software developer "was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers".

In short, Microsoft has become an "old" company. It's no surprise that today, Microsoft focuses more on playing catch-up with tablets and smartphones with misfires such as Windows 8 Metro than actually improving its fundamental software performance.

People are reacting to this new look inside Microsoft as it if were shocking. It's not. As the developer himself added, as the story began to spread through the blogosphere, it "has gotten out of control. I was much too harsh, and I didn't intend this as some kind of massive exposé. This is just grumbling".

In a particular, he semi-apologized for his NTFS comments: "NTFS does use SEH internally, but the filesystem is very solid and well tested. The people who maintain it are some of the most talented and experienced I know. (Granted, I think they maintain ugly code, but ugly code can back good, reliable components, and ugliness is inherently subjective.)"

In an attempt to spin the sum of complaints in a more positive way, he added, "Windows and Microsoft still have plenty of technical talent. We do not ship code that someone doesn't maintain and understand, even if it takes a little while for new people to ramp up sometimes. While I have read and write access to the Windows source and commit to it once in a while, so do tens and tens of thousands of other people all over the world. I am nobody special ... We almost never make decisions individually, and while I maintain that social dynamics discourage risk taking and spontaneous individual collaboration, I want to stress that we are not insane, and we are not dysfunctional. The social forces I mentioned act as a drag on innovation, and I think we should do something about the aspects of our culture that I highlighted, but we're far from crippled. The negative effects are more like those incurred by mounting an unnecessary spoiler on a car than tearing out the engine block. What's indisputable fact is that our engineering division regularly runs and releases dependable, useful software that runs all over the world. No matter what you think of the Windows 8 UI, the system underneath is rock solid, as was Windows 7, and I'm proud of having been a small part of this entire process."

Rock solid? The monthly Microsoft patch Tuesdays and the constant out of schedule zero-day fixes, such as May's IE 8 fix, leaves me doubting, as always, Windows' security and stability, but what else can a Microsoft employee say? In any case, when it comes to speed, Linux, not Windows, as he himself still admitted, remains the clear champ.

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Topics: Linux, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • an anonymous dev?

    That's a solid source.
    Throw All The Things
    • Self preservation

      I guess he/she likes to continue to earn a living. The allegedly "kinder and gentler MS" would go after that person with a vengeance. The "empire" would feel threatened and make an example him/her.

      That is unfortunately how the world works.
      • Quite.

        In an unrelated note, I'm a senior official in the United States Government. I'm privy to very sensitive information, and recently saw documents stating that the United States wish to invade Belarus a week on Thursday. And to prove I'm real, section [redacted] of [redacted] reads [redacted]. Obviously I won't reveal my identity because I don't wish to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.
        • when a guy like SJVN

          Who's known to make forgettable articles uses a source like an anonymous developer... I don't consider this a good or reliable article. Its only to get clicks and SJVN is good at that.
          Throw All The Things
          • Speaking of forgettable, ...

            like ALL the MS shills here?
          • Don't put me in

            That category... I don't waste my time on hating an OS. I don't post hate about another OS. I just point out what some people don't want to understand. You are more in the hater's category. You like wasting your time on ZDNet and post hate about W8. I like Linux, but I don't blind myself. Their current approach is not working. They need to advertise Linux as a real product and be more than something to build on.
            Throw All The Things
          • that is the job of a company like Google, Linux kernel devs are not a

          • If the shoe fits.....

            "when a guy like SJVN........"?

            If you want respect, do not write trash like that. It reflects a LOT more on you than on him.
          • i said

            "When a guy like SJVN WHO IS KNOWN TO MAKE FORGETTABLE ARTICLES". Don't blame me if you can't read.
            Throw All The Things
          • Not in this case.

            There are some individuals, I say some, that have so purposly destroyed their own reputation in an effort to do nothing but promote hate that they deserve every critique of their credability they get.

            I actually have some faith in this particular article, but I cant say its in bad taste to question the reliability of SJVN at every instance given his clear cut intent to write articles that are highly critical of MS and Windows in the past, even when the material he has written is or relies upon is trash.
          • Microsoft looks like former Soviet Union...

            "Windows is indeed slower than other operating systems in many scenarios, and the gap is worsening. The cause of the problem is social. There's almost none of the improvement for its own sake, for the sake of glory, that you see in the Linux world."

        • Re: Guantanamo

          As far as I am aware, that facility is a place where non-US nationals end up being... questioned. I believe there are other facilities for US nationals and if you truly work high in the US government one could assume, not, hope that you are an US national.

          And Belarus? :-)
    • SJVN (TM)

      My point exactly. And then when the anonymous source states something SJVN doesn't like to hear he starts his Microsoft bashing again. As if Android is a beacon of stability and safety.

      This guy desperately needs to find something to write about in the Linux world other than bashing Microsoft.

      On a side note, he complains about how Microsoft Patch Tuesdays are such a drag, but all my Linux builds have about 10 - 20 updates a week for software and patches to the OS. I wonder if Linux was really worth anyone's valuable time to attack how many of those 'Patches' would be security flaws.

      All software is flawed. Microsoft like everyone else fixes them, yet according to SJVN fixing flawed code is frowned upon outside the sphere of Linux. And that coming from a guy that insists on https web surfing on his 'superior and secure Linux system', as if Big Brother Google won't know what he's doing.

      This guy should trademark his trolling.
      Dreyer Smit
      • Revenue raising

        The irony is without "MS shills" SJVN would be reduced to writing Linux articles to the very small audience he usually gets.

        The more posts, the more revenue for SJVN.

        Next time, count to 10 and move on, rather than offering financial support to SJVN.

        That's just my 2 cents (to SJVN) ;-)
        • So why are you here?

          I think you argue with yourself.
          • Re: So why are you here?

            Perhaps Tony believes SJVN deserves the 2 cents he gets because of his post?

            It seems you believe that too.
          • Linux faster than Windows...

            ...which is well-known fact only denied by Windows die-hard fanboys.

            Why? Because these folks are still believing in myth of "there ain't free lunch". Let them grow up.
          • You guys miss a valuable point

            Consumers don't care that Linux is faster and they are the ones that drive windows consumer popularity. We manage 80,000 business desktops at my job and I never factor in the speed of the OS. Why? Cause I know that is subjective. Depends on CPU, Memory, GPU, HD speed and a host (pun intended) of other things. There is no consumer, other than die-hard geeks and gamers, that pay attention to speed ratings between OS's.

            What is also missed is, even if Linux is faster, its not making ANY difference in its adoption on the business desktop (which is where it has to start so that people at work are forced to used it and then enjoy it and further adopt it at home). The reason MS can't be toppled is because, people love familiarity. If they use is at work and learn how to use it better, they can take that knowledge home. Linux has light years to get to that point hence their smaller than desired consumer base. I doubt that SJVN can't show us one Fortune 500 company that has adopted Linux as its only business desktop (not even Red Hat). Until one does, the copycats will stay away too.
          • And I bet your company spends millions in excess...

            The mentality in enterprises where Windows is used is, if it's not fast enough, buy newer hardware that is. I see this happen just about every single day. Instead of fixing the root cause of the issue, enterprises throw more money at it. Windows PCs are crashing or running slow, the hardware is thrown out and new and faster hardware is purchased, which does fix the issue because the newer hardware can handle the bloated Windows OS. I can't count how many times I've seen spinning disks replaced with solid state because Windows was running too slow. Really? Yet we COULD install GNU/Linux on the spinning disk and it would work fine. Nope, enterprises would rather take the lazy yet more expensive way. Some have the cash and if that's what they want, then fine. Others don't know that they are throwing funds right down the drain. GNU/Linux just runs better on the same hardware when put against Windows, it's just a fact.
          • Real ROI

            "GNU/Linux just runs better on the same hardware when put against Windows"

            Yeah we know. But a SSD for $300 for a 15% performance gain, vs $0 for GNU/Linux install for 5% gain, isn't as much of a sure decision when the user will be confused with the interface and it limits the choice of technicians who can or are willing to service the unit. Almost invariably employee time is much more costly than simple hardware.