Harvard prof: Microsoft Windows users ‘may simply end up with a more and more inferior OS over time’

Microsoft’s “marathon effort to come up with the a new version of its desktop operating system, called Windows Vista, has repeatedly stalled. Last week, in the latest setback, Microsoft conceded that Vista would not be ready for consumers until January, missing the holiday sales season, to the chagrin of personal computer makers and electronics retailers — and those computer users eager to move up from Windows XP, a five-year-old product,” Steve Lohr and John Markoff report for The New York Times. In those five years, Apple Computer has turned out four new versions of its Macintosh operating system, beating Microsoft to market with features that will be in Vista, like desktop search, advanced 3-D graphics and “widgets,” an array of small, single-purpose programs like news tickers, traffic reports and weather maps. So what’s wrong with Microsoft?”

“A crucial reason Microsoft holds more than 90 percent of the PC operating system market is that the company strains to make sure software and hardware that ran on previous versions of Windows will also work on the new one — compatibility, in computing terms,” Lohr and Markoff report. “As a result, each new version of Windows carries the baggage of its past. As Windows has grown, the technical challenge has become increasingly daunting. Several thousand engineers have labored to build and test Windows Vista, a sprawling, complex software construction project with 50 million lines of code, or more than 40 percent larger than Windows XP. ‘Windows is now so big and onerous because of the size of its code base, the size of its ecosystem and its insistence on compatibility with the legacy hardware and software, that it just slows everything down,’ observed David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. ‘That’s why a company like Apple has such an easier time of innovation.'”

“Last Thursday, Microsoft reorganized the management of its Windows division… The move is seen as an effort to bring greater discipline to the Windows group. ‘But this doesn’t seem to do anything to address the core Windows problem; Windows is too big and too complex,’ said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology… Skeptics like Mr. Cusumano say that fixing the Windows problem will take a more radical approach, a willingness to walk away from its legacy. One instructive example, they say, is what happened at Apple… It took Mr. Jobs and his team years to retool and tailor the Next operating system into what became Macintosh OS X… ‘Microsoft feels it can’t get away with breaking compatibility,’ said Mendel Rosenblum, a Stanford University computer scientist. ‘All of their applications must continue to run, and from an architectural point of view that’s a very painful thing.'”

“It is also costly in terms of time, money and manpower. Where Microsoft has thousands of engineers on its Windows team, Apple has a lean development group of roughly 350 programmers and fewer than 100 software testers, according to two Apple employees who spoke on the condition that they not be identified… And Apple had the advantage of building on software from university laboratories, an experimental version of the Unix operating system developed at Carnegie Mellon University and a free variant of Unix from the University of California, Berkeley… And Apple, which makes operating systems that run only on its own computers, does not have to work with the massive business ecosystem of Microsoft, with its hundreds of PC makers and thousands of third-party software companies. That ballast is also Microsoft’s great strength, and a reason industry partners and computer users stick with Windows, even if its size and strategy slow innovation. Unless Microsoft can pick up the pace, ‘consumers may simply end up with a more and more inferior operating system over time, which is sad,’ said Mr. Yoffie of the Harvard Business School.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Not good news for Windows sufferers. Windows is already quite noticeably inferior to Mac OS X today. Backwards compatibility is vastly overrated for people with the ability to adapt and learn new things. Mac users know this intrinsically and from experience, but Microsoft is hanging itself and dooming its users in the name of backwards compatibility that stifles real innovation. Where do you want to go today? Into the past, clinging eternally backwards to accumulated dreck or into the future like a rocket? Mac OS X. The future is here.

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Related articles:
Microsoft’s Windows Albatross, er Vista could slip even more – March 27, 2006
60-percent of Windows Vista code to be rewritten – March 24, 2006
Microsoft reorganizes moribund Windows unit – March 23, 2006
Microsoft’s inability to ship Windows Vista leaves door open for Apple – March 23, 2006
Tech writer: Forget booting Windows on Macs, now is the time for Apple Mac to take back share – March 23, 2006
Microsoft Vista fumble could lead to score for Apple Mac; Mac OS X Leopard may beat Vista to market – March 23, 2006
Analysts: Apple could benefit from Microsoft’s latest Vista slip – March 22, 2006
Forbes: Microsoft’s Vista slips again – Steve Jobs must be waking up a happy man this morning – March 22, 2006
What’s the difference between Mac OS X and Vista? Microsoft employees are excited about Mac OS X – March 22, 2006
Vista delay causes Windows-dependents slump in pre-market trading; Apple rises – March 22, 2006
Enderle on MS Vista slip: ‘I personally can not recall Apple ever getting an opportunity like this’ – March 21, 2006
Microsoft delays Windows Vista again – this time until January 2007 – March 21, 2006


  1. You know, they always run the same old saw about backward compatibility–it’s not actually necessary, unless you need to sell more copies of the new OS. Think about all the organizations that still run on the (relatively) stable and reliable win2000 for instance. Once again, “Greed–is good.”

  2. Personally I’m beginning to think that Apple should try and circumvent the whole computer market by releasing a series of devices which do not require a computer to work but can make use of one. Make them prevalent then make Mac the natural choice for anyone with a phone, pda, media center, whatever. the iPod is already leading people to Mac by not trying to run head first into the windows bias.

  3. Apple has found ways to maintain backward compatibility long enough for users to adapt. PPC had emulation for 68k programs (don’t know if it had a name), Classic mode, now Rosetta. As well as a way for developers to build applications for both, Fat binaries, whatever those package contents are called, and Universal binaries. Imagine an OS X that could nativly run your old 68k Oregon Trail program. I cringe at the idea.

  4. To Chris Moore: (from developer.apple.com) ” . . . the Mixed Mode Manager, the part of the Macintosh system software that manages the mixed-mode architecture of PowerPC processor-based computers running 680×0-based code (including system software, applications, and stand-alone code modules). The Mixed Mode Manager cooperates with the 68LC040 Emulator to provide a fast, efficient, and virtually transparent method for code in
    one instruction set architecture to call code in another architecture. The Mixed Mode Manager handles all the details of switching between architectures.”

    And in other news:
    All polar bears are left-handed.

  5. And still OSX suffers through a miniscule and irrelevant 2-4% market share. I guess Jobs is not such a genius after all if he doesn’t know the simple rule that in the marketplace if nobody knows you exist, you don’t.

  6. They weren’t always that way. Windows 95 made all your Windows 3.1 software obsolete.

    Maybe it has something to do with all the monopoly / antitrust allegations. Imagine if Vista required you to purchase all new copies of Office, etc.?


  7. seems like the perfect time to take a bite out of microsoft…
    but rather than dreaming about 6% marketshare… they
    should go for half the table… license a secure PC version of OSX
    to dell, sony, hp boxes being released… that’s the only way
    osx will replace vista… sell a cheap stripped down but secure
    version of the OS for people to replace their xp’s with…
    if there is emulation of windows people don’t have to buy
    programs again…

    the .mac membership should be the main source of income…
    bundle it with the os and make sure you have to have an
    account for ilife apps/functionality to work…
    make it the hub for email, iweb pages, itunes downloads,
    backup, themes, future phone, os preferences, whatever…

    i’m sure in three years the marketshare would be huge…
    and people will finally realize how they’ve been duped
    all these years with an inferior crap of an OS… everyone
    needs a taste and a glimpse of what is possible on a mac…
    once the bar is raised all the mediocre crap will die on its own…

    then when half the world is ready to upgrade from their
    grey boxes… the apple models will be highly attractive
    because it is compatible and uses the same os they have
    been enjoying up until then… i think there has been
    a gap similar to the diesel – gasoline gap in the car world…
    change everyone’s engine (OS) to a gasoline model (OSX) first
    and then the sports cars (apple hardware) will be MORE
    attractive not less… Of course the cheapskates will always
    opt for the cheapest models, but let them… and let apple benefit
    from that rather than microsoft… let the better more stable
    OS win…

    If apple does “win” it would be great to see them branch out into
    all sorts of different electronic products like sony/samsung– think ipod division times ten: apple car stereo… apple phones… apple game box… apple children’s computer… apple digital movie camera… apple home cinema system with a real apple hi-fi… who knows in 10 years time apple car’s…

    I think the trick is to partner with great companies (like they did with harmon speakers) and control the design and aesthetics… jonathin ive could probably design a great car interior (and exterior) with a team of engineers… it’s not that far-fetched– samsung has a car division now…

    digital life… the ipod proved it’s more than computers and maybe it’s time for apple to branch out even more… i’m sure we’d all support them.

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