Microsoft Vista: long-delayed and pared-down

“In 1975, Frederick Brooks published ‘The Mythical Man-Month.’ It had no right to succeed. The book detailed Brooks’ experience managing IBM’s bet-the-company System/360 computers and OS/360 software, and featured odd illustrations, an awkward title, and loads of jargon. Yet Brooks’ deconstruction of what went right and wrong became a must-read among tech and nontech execs; dog-eared copies are still passed around. The best known passages expose flaws in the then common use of ‘man months’—the tool (okay, gender-biased tool) for estimating project cost and length. A 12-man-month project might have three people assigned to it for four months; if delays set in, managers simply added more people. Brooks proved that doing so increased bureaucracy and training, leading to Brooks’ law: Adding people to a late software project makes it later. He also laid out new strategies for organizing teams and managing creative types. In November, Brooks, now 74 and since 1964 a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained in his Southern drawl why people still turn to his book for guidance,” Daniel Roth writes for Fortune.

A few excerpts:

If a project is already late and throwing more people on it is just going to make it worse, how do you solve the problem?
One is to officially slip the schedule. And officially doing it has many benefits over unofficially letting it slip. Peter Fagg, a really wise System/360 engineering manager, gave very sound advice: ‘Take no small slips.’ That is, if you’re going to take a slip, get everybody onboard, get organized, and take a six-month slip, even though you may at the moment feel as if you’re only four months late. The other obvious solution is to lighten the ship: Decide there are some things we’re not going to do. A third thing is to phase the work: Say, ‘All right, we’re going to do a version that has just the essentials for the most important or most numerous users.’ Meanwhile schedule and develop the things that should go in version 2 and ship them later.

Sounds like a recipe for Microsoft’s Vista, its long-delayed and now pared-down new operating system. Does it surprise you that the same mistakes are being made 30 years later?
No. People still build bridges that fall in. That art has two centuries of engineering practice behind it, if not three. The software engineering discipline is just plain younger than the electrical engineering discipline. So software is less mature than hardware, and by a whole generation of people. Also, the median age of the practitioners is probably younger.

What’s your computer setup today?
I happily use a Macintosh. It’s not been equalled for ease of use, and I want my computer to be a tool, not a challenge.

What do your former colleagues think of your being a Mac user?
I haven’t discussed it.

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews reader “drz” for the link.]

MacDailyNews Take: Frederick Brooks is a smart man.

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25 Comments

  1. Sounds like the story i’ve told PC friends young and old…

    when i was young and naive, i like pc’s cause i could build them, fix them, hack them, etc.. .but as i got older i just wanted a computer that worked, and not have to spend tons of time getting it to work

  2. I own the book. It’s an interesting read.

    I own an iBook, but also run a Linux (Gentoo)/Windows XP box. Linux box for messing around with setting up a server, and my iBook for doing work.

    MW: remember
    as in… “Remember when Longhorn/Vista was first announced? Hmm, that was a really long time ago.”

  3. Ha! Lord Byron hit the nail on the head. That’s my experience too. I learned everything good and bad about computing on a Windows PC. When I finally learned what I needed to do my work, I switched to a Mac and haven’t looked back. No more crashes, no more defragging, no more opening the machine to fiddle with jumpers, and fewer patches. I’m a happy camper and I get a lot more work done.

  4. The real difficulty for M$ in releasing ‘Longhorn’ aka ‘Vista’ on time is they obviously need to wait on Apple’s to release new features to market before they [M$] can copy the more compelling feature set. This has been the case for years.

    Secondly, unlike Linux and Darwin (OS X’s underpinnings), M$ OS is not open source. Therefore they have to labor at improving it by themselves. That is another reason why they have so many security issues.

    Linux comes out with major updates almost bi-anually and OS X around the same frequency. SJ doesn’t need to work on the plumbing like M$. So Apple resources are free to innovate on the GUI and iApps.

    Rock on SJ!
    ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”raspberry” style=”border:0;” />

  5. So, ahem, MDN, how delayed is Longhorn/Vista?

    When was “Longhorn” first mentioned, what was the original ship date, and what’s happened since then?

    I’ve lived through the details, I just can’t remember them at the moment.

    Thanks, I’ll listen for the answer.

    MDN MW: “problems” Really, I’m not making this stuff up!

  6. Here is a bit of trivia I learned from the Wikipedia article on Vista:

    “Build 5048 of Longhorn featured a red screen of death in addition to the blue one. It was dropped in Build 5112 of Windows Vista.”

    Because you get bored seeing the same old blue screen every time.

  7. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”gulp” style=”border:0;” /> I can’t get over this poor guy named “Peter Fagg”. Is that a joke? Seriously, how would you like to grow up with a name like that? All the schoolyard beatings he received must have toughened him up real good.

  8. (grump grump grump) If people are gonna make the VISTA acronym joke, I wish they’d get it right. “Viruses, Infections…” is redundant and just makes us look dumb. The original joke was “Viruses, Intrusions, Spyware, Trojans, Adware”.

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