Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 24/03/2004Oi! Microsoft! Nooooo! I wasn't going to mention the company this week, but it's committed a terrible sin.

Wednesday 24/03/2004
Oi! Microsoft! Nooooo! I wasn't going to mention the company this week, but it's committed a terrible sin. I'm not talking about Super Mario and the EU; I'm not talking about supporting SCO.

The company has announced that it's merging its graphics development systems for the Xbox and Windows, with something called XNA. No word on what XNA stands for -- although the Web page devoted to it has a shiny double helix down one side, so no doubt we're supposed to think about digital DNA -- but let it never be said that Microsoft is reticent about mixing its marketing metaphors. Brace yourself, here comes the first paragraph:

"Microsoft XNA is the catalyst for a new ecosystem of interchangeable, interoperable software tools and technologies from Microsoft, middleware and game development companies. By integrating software innovations across Microsoft platforms and across the industry, XNA forms a common environment that liberates developers from spending too much time writing mundane, repetitive boilerplate code."

Leaving aside the fact that 'boilerplate code' is supposed to be mundane and repetitive and there to free you from writing the dull stuff anyway, one can only stand in awe at the idea that a form of DNA is a catalyst for an ecosystem. You can see what they're getting at -- but it's just horribly wrong. And it is the use of the word 'ecosystem' that is particularly galling.

I don't know when it started to become fashionable among the marketroids -- I think I heard it for the first time at an AMD briefing last year -- but it's spreading like rats through an Antipodean island. Processors don't run software any more; they're part of an ecosystem of compilers, applications, operating systems and firmware. I always thought that was just a system -- and if you really want to find some snappy metaphor about how it works, the closest you can get is economic.

Ecosystems are full of things that eat each other, fertilising further development with their bodily wastes and corpses. They are easily disrupted by resource monopolisation or the unbalanced growth of any one member, and react slowly to rapid events from outside. I don't know if this is the set of mental images Microsoft wishes to associate with itself and its XNA project.

All I can say is that, on mature reflection, I was dead wrong and the company should continue to employ the metaphor extensively and with vigour.