More on “Hasta La Vista”

December 23, 2006

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to engage in this kind of petty Mac-vs-PC-vs-Linux, Canon-vs-Nikon-vs-Pentax, green beans-vs-broccoli-vs-carrots bickering, but the article I linked to in the last post is just so laden with problems, I can’t help myself.

It’s probably just a manifestation of the classic “journalists are always wrong about my field” syndrome, in which any time that you read an article about anything you actually know about, you’ll be outraged by the mistakes. But gosh darn it, “Hasta La Vista” is such an outrageous mishmash, I can’t help myself.

First:

If they are not about to buy a new Windows PC, should they buy a copy of Vista to upgrade a perfectly adequate machine running an earlier version of Windows?

If you are running a PC with any version of Windows prior to XP (with all the Service Pack 2 updates), then the answer is most certainly yes.

That is an incredibly bad recommendation. If you aren’t running XP on your machine presently, odds are quite good that your machine hasn’t got a prayer of meeting the actual Vista requirements. (As opposed to the published minimum requirements, which really reflect only what it takes to install Vista. Anybody attempting to use an 800-Mhz processor with Vista better have plenty of time on their hands.)

Next:

Many say Vista’s problem is its sheer size and complexity. All told, the program comprises some 50m lines of computer code. And as any programmer will tell you, software contains typically five to ten errors for every 100 lines of code. So, even if 90% of them were squished during the extensive testing programme, Vista will hit the shelves with at least a quarter of a million bugs in it.

Using lines-of-code is an extremely poor measure of its complexity. Architecture counts.

The “five to ten errors” bit is a rule of thumb, used by project managers to guesstimate at the start of a testing cycle. It also refers to new code, not the existing, unmodified code base. Microsoft engineers did not spend the last five years writing fifty million lines of code. Of course, new code will reveal bugs in old code, as new execution paths get exercised and old requirements get re-parsed, but the majority of new bugs exist in changed code.

To estimate that Vista will have a quarter of a million bugs when it ships is just as ludicrous as it sounds. To therefore dismiss criticism of Vista on the basis of its size and complexity is naive.

Windows may squander computing power through its clumsy architecture. But by favouring simplicity of use over simplicity of design, Microsoft has been able to leverage cheap but powerful commodity hardware, to provide cost-effective software solutions. These may be complex in design—and full of bugs to boot—but, boy, are they easy to use and maintain. That’s a winning formula in anyone’s book, and the reason why Windows rightly rules the world.

At what point did Windows decide to favour simplicity of use over simplicity of design? The entire history of Windows has been one of compromising both ease-of-use and design quality for any number of reasons: backwards compatibility, broad requirements, or the whims of the marketing department. (The “Start” button for shutdowns? Please.)

He starts this paragraph by talking about “design”, by which he’s clearly referring to software architecture. But he ends by talking about ease-of-maintenance, by which he seems to be talking about PC administration, because an elementary rule of software architecture is that a clumsy architecture is exponentially harder to maintain than a clean one. Why did it take Microsoft five years to release a greatly stripped-down version of their next Windows release? Again, it wasn’t because their engineers were busy writing fifty million lines of new code.

Finally, if there’s an edge given to Windows in ease-of-administration, it’s not measured in any ROI studies I’ve ever seen. What he probably means is, “Since I’ve been using Windows for the past decade, I don’t have any more problems fixing its problems than most people with my level of experience have.”

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