Microsoft's fight with demons within bears fruit

Microsoft's fight with demons within bears fruit

Summary: These efforts allowed Microsoft to reduce the time it takes to make new Longhorn builds to just a few days and "install a workable version of the system on their PCs four days before Christmas". An even better indicator of their success was that the recent beta of Longhorn (now renamed to Vista) released July of this year resulted in several times fewer bugs than what was traditionally expected of any Windows beta operating system.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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On last Friday's edition of the Wall Street Journal Online, Robert A. Guth did this excellent piece about Microsoft's fight with internal demons and their efforts to remake themselves.  According to Guth's article, Microsoft in July of 2004 declared the Longhorn project and their entire development process broken.  Chief Windows architect Jim Allchin told Bill Gates that Longhorn (the next version of Windows Operating System) "was so complex its writers would never be able to make it run properly".  After a lot of coaxing and arm twisting, Microsoft tossed out years of work on Longhorn and went back to basics.

Microsoft embarked on a radical shift in the way they developed software and any engineer who objected was told "Is your code perfect?  Are you perfect?  If not, you should shut up and support this effort".  Microsoft developed automated testing tools that automatically rejected overly buggy code and any Engineer guilty of writing too much buggy code "was tossed in 'bug jail' and were banned from writing new code."

These efforts allowed Microsoft to reduce the time it takes to make new Longhorn builds to just a few days and "install a workable version of the system on their PCs four days before Christmas".  An even better indicator of their success was that the recent beta of Longhorn (now renamed to Vista) released July of this year resulted in several times fewer bugs than what was traditionally expected of any Windows beta operating system.  The new development system was so successful that even the Microsoft Office team adopted some of the tools to improve Office code.

Even with these successes, Jim Allchin was still not satisfied and was quoted saying "There're weaknesses in everything we're doing today, but it's such a huge step up from where we were."  Last week's sweeping reorganization to deal with the new challenges that Microsoft faces is an expansion of this effort to remake Microsoft.  This isn't the first time Microsoft was forced to do some soul searching, Bill Gates sent out this memo to the entire Microsoft staff in January of 2002 and launched the Trustworthy Computing initiative that yielded a more secure Windows 2003 server and Windows XP SP2.  While these efforts are still a work in progress and are not where they need to be, they show a company willing to change and willing to improve.

There will always be those who will dismiss this whole thing as a publicity stunt and there will always be those who will selectively quote Microsoft executives admitting faults in Windows products to bash them.  But it is a sign of strength anytime a person or company can openly admit faults, especially when they can follow through and correct many of them.  In my experience, success is never accidental especially when it is maintained over a long period of time.  It takes a lot of strength to say our process is broken, our software is too buggy, and we need to start over.  This is why Microsoft has been successful over the years and will continue to succeed so long as they're willing to improve and adjust with the times.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • I might as well start

    "There will always be those who will dismiss this whole thing as
    a publicity stunt and there will always be those who will
    selectively quote Microsoft executives admitting faults in
    Windows products to bash them."

    I might as well start then.

    Quite apart from the MS fan-boy position from George, the
    article also gives us a wonderful insight to current state of
    windows, that of XP. The operating system millions have
    lumbered under for 5 years now, and the platform users are
    forced to deal with for another 12+ months.

    After reading George's blog, you could be confused into
    believing Jim Allchin's position on windows code problems
    started with concerns about Longhorn development.

    "In 2001 Microsoft made a documentary film celebrating the
    creation of Windows XP, which remains the latest full update of
    Windows. When Mr. Allchin previewed the film, it confirmed
    some of his misgivings about the Windows culture. He saw the
    eleventh-hour heroics needed to finish the product and get it to
    customers. Mr. Allchin ordered the film to be burned."

    Yes, the company George proudly boasts "can openly admit
    faults", burnt the evidence of it enormous cultural failures.

    "The mass of patches and agglomerations that made up
    Windows turned it into an easy target for viruses and other Web-
    based attacks. Mr. Allchin had to divert top engineers into the
    effort to fix security problems in existing versions of Windows.
    "The ship was just crashing to the ground," Mr. Allchin says."

    Windows security Allchin, a senoior MS employee which has
    been with the company for 15 years, describes as a crashing
    ship. Must make windows users feel comfortable.

    Congratulations to Allchin and Srivastava, who despite
    objections from none other than Bill (slap it together) Gates has
    managed to institute the formal compiling processes and
    separation of packages that non-windows users have enjoyed
    for years, and in many cases decades.

    That it still takes 4 days to recompile windows is rather
    amazing, given it takes significantly less time (hours) to produce
    a complete Linux distribution.

    Lets finish with the line :

    "It could take years before Windows can be as flexible as
    Microsoft needs it to be to pump out new features quickly."

    But I'm sure that the George's of the world will continue with
    their undying defence of their platform. And you only have to
    wait until 2007 to get your hands on the claimed benefits;-)
    Richard Flude
    • Zealots make it up as they g oalong

      You wrote:

      [i]"Yes, the company George proudly boasts "can openly admit faults", burnt the evidence of it enormous cultural failures."[/i]

      No, what Allchin did was send a message to his people that the 11th-hour theatrics to get the product out the door AREN'T heroic, and ordering the video to be 'burned' was not destroying evidence (which, he willingly offered to a reporter), but destroying the celebration of mediocrity. The pride of getting something done just before the deadline can often obscure the fact that it should have been done far sooner. A good leader can recognize that and build on it. Allchin will be missed at Microsoft.
      Real World
    • Context and comprehension

      I guess it's all in how one wishes to put their own meanings into the quotes.
      IT Scion
    • I wish

      You Linux lovers would think before you write. XP is the most popular OS on the market today that is why it is attacked so often by idiots who have nothing to do with their smarts but show off to their friends by writing a virus. That is the difference between smart and intelligence. Smart is what most people are and intelligence is what most people wish they were. Intelligence is mature smart is a child. Your smart.
      Richie_z
      • Popular = attacked more? BZZT - wrong

        Sorry, Richie, but the most popular Web Server on the planet (70% of the market) is Apache, and it has fewer unpached vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities are pached much quicker than Microsoft's flagship server, IIS.

        The fact of the matter is that poorly-written software is more vulnerable.

        Unfortunately, Windows was written with the emphasis on the flashy UI and not with security in mind; this is why it can never be secure as other OSes. If Microsoft was really interested in making it secure, they would, but they don't see any financial incentive in doing so.

        The financial incentive is to pump out a new version every 4-5 years with sexxy new features. UI tricks sells to the unwashed masses; they could care less about security. Which is unfortunate.
        spankyj
        • BZZT - wrong

          All evidence is anectdotal, but Firefox is an example of software that, as it has gained in popularity, there have been more and more vulnerabilities discovered. You're confusing attacks with vulnerabilities. There does appear to be a correlation between the amount of exploits and the installed base of the software.

          You run down Windows as a 'flashy' OS without security in mind. I believe that is because you don't know your history. Windows forked when NT was released. The NT kernel has always been a multi-user kernel designed for use in a networked environment. In contrast, Windows 3.1, 95, 98 and ME were all single-user OS's and were not designed to be used in a networked environment (including a home environment with an always-on broadband connection). Since the release of Windows 2000, the NT kernel has been behind every version of Windows. The old single-user model was put out to pasture.

          You are right about the fact that the 'unwashed masses' (whatever that means) couldn't care less about security. Much like they couldn't care less about how their car starts, they just want it to run. Microsoft has taken great steps forward in securing their software (service pack 2 for XP as the prime example), and all indications are that they are continuing to do so. But if you are still not happy with Windows, please use a system that gives you whatever it is that you are looking for, but whatever your choice, do take the time to learn how to use it. You'll be much happier.
          Real World
        • Apache has way more exploits

          If you go to the hacking sites, there are no downloadable exploits for IIS 6.0. The same sites have many downloadable exploits for Apache 1.x and 2.x. I've compiled some of these and tested them and they do work.

          Apache has way more hacking incidents than IIS today even if you include IIS 5.x. If you look at IIS 6.x, it has very few successful exploits.
          http://zone-h.org
          george_ou
    • Build time

      >> That it still takes 4 days to recompile windows is rather
      amazing, given it takes significantly less time (hours) to produce
      a complete Linux distribution.

      It also takes few hours to recompile windows. You should know that time it takes to release build includes a lot more than compile and link, e.g., smoke test failure.
      kumla
  • I hope so

    I hope they have turned things around. I won't hold my breath. However, the Wall Street article has made me a little more interested in testing Vista.
    Patrick Jones
  • Youth, skill and virtue

    are no match for age, experience, and treachery.

    In the same sense: facts, proven "best known methods," and business requirements are no match for rationalization, habit, and corporate culture.

    Allchin is leaving next year, and he might as well be on "special assignment" until then. Meanwhile, the Cult of Bill still celebrates the "we don't need no steenking process" as proof that Microsoft programmers are not only better than everyone else combined but [i]so much[/i] better that nobody else's experience applies to them.

    Given a choice between corporate culture and extinction, most companies "choose" extinction. Microsoft isn't even close to that kind of pressure.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Youth vs age

      Greetings from growthling,
      Are you implying that Microsoft resorts to treachery in order to reap success.
      And as for experience, it is interesting and intriguing to note that we do not normally have the experience of the number of our days. Why is this so? And surely, ours would be a more liveable world without treachery. In other words,those of us who stoop to treachery just do not see the big picture.
      May I say that reading this article entitled, "Microsoft fight with demons within bears fruit", I am of the opinion that, as a result of its willingness to make what seem to be precise about turns, Microsoft demonstrates the charateristics of eternal youth.
      growthling
      • Treachery

        [i]Are you implying that Microsoft resorts to treachery in order to reap success.[/i]

        It's an old saying.

        My only point is that the New Order is up against a power (corporate culture) against which it doesn't stand much of a chance.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Key is the tools.

    The linked article is clear that this revolution could not succeed until the tools to check code were reliable. That was a concern that had to be resolved before the new strategy could be put in place.

    Why? Because Microsoft sells features.
    Anyone who discounted Bill Gates's comments about whether improvements would be delayed or about the response of the Windows development teams, take two steps back.
    Your emphasis is not on selling a product. Microsoft makes a lot of money selling products.


    For contrast and (greater) similarity to what happened at Microsoft, the following article shows what happened at Disney when they decided to change to computer animation.
    Note that a respected representative of the "losing" side had to be brought to a meeting to endorse the new approach.
    Organizational dynamics are at the center of this story.

    http://www.mickeynews.com/News/DisplayPressRelease.asp_Q_id_E_9205Swap
    Anton Philidor
    • Link to more complete copy

      http://www.etaiwannews.com/World/2005/09/19/1127096999.htm
      Anton Philidor
  • Geez, I thought the sharks would be circling on this one

    Is it that they moved the date for the superbowl to today and I missed it? I thought for sure that this one would be feeding frenzy for the Un-MS crowd. It must be an off day. :)
    balsover
    • I think you're right

      Must be a day off :).
      george_ou
      • No, it's just that

        Paul's blog was more interesting today. ;)
        Real World
        • You mean the one where he gives MS credit for inventing Telnet?

          LOL, you mean more infamous. He got flamed from UNIX and Windows types. Some of the unix types actually tried to agree with him that "Windows Telnet sucks and you should use UNIX Telnet". Oh my lord I was rolling on the ground laughing.
          george_ou
          • No, the one before that

            Where he is talking about "Liz" and her bad GNOME session. Not to telepor the "telnet" discussion here, but Murph's point was that if people used the X clients (Exceed or Cygwin, for instance) to admin Linux machines instead of a text-only TE (be it ssh or telnet), it might increase adoption. Personally, I disagree with that, as the command line is faster and doesn't use as much of the scarce resources available on a Windows machine. But, you are smart enough to know that was his point was and you choose to debate the trival issue instead. And yes, that blog was more interesting too. ;)
            Real World
          • No, he had that coming

            ?But, you are smart enough to know that was his point was and you choose to debate the trivial issue instead?

            He clearly attacked Windows Telnet and he never mentions SSH and he got flamed from everyone (even the UNIX/Linux types) that one. As for X clients, you can still do that better for the money on a nice Windows machine. I personally agree that CLI is faster for a lot of things. That's pretty much all I use on firewalls, routers, and switches.

            "doesn't use as much of the scarce resources available on a Windows machine"

            That's an easy one, just don't fire up any Sun-based Java applications and you'll save 40 to 100 MBs of RAM :). If you're implying Windows can't handle memory, that hasn't been the case since Win9x code and the conversion to NT/2K/XP.
            george_ou