Friday, October 14, 2005

Some Perspective On Vista

   It's been quite a while since Microsoft released a new operating system.  Windows XP was the last consumer OS to ship and that was 4 years ago.  By the time Vista ships, it will have been 5 years.  There are a lot of consequences of such a long release cycle but the one I want to speak about is perspective.  Rather, the lack of perspective.  Most people today watching Vista come along have no perspective about what a new OS is like before it ships.  When XP was being built, the world was less connected.  There were no blogs.  There were far fewer web sites dedicated to rumors and leaks.  The consequence of this is that most people didn't see what the OS really looked like until it launched.  Those that did tended to read about it in magazines with long lead times and carefully scripted presentations.  Today, the public gets to see a much more raw version of the development process.   Another consequence is that even here inside Microsoft, many fewer people have shipped an OS.  Why does this matter?  I have seen a lot of people reacting to early releases of Vista in a negative light.  It is too slow or it doesn't look different enough or it is buggy.  There are also a lot of positive reactions but those are not the aim of my essay. 

   People who react negatively don't realize that this is always what an OS looks like before it ships.  Think of building a new OS a lot like cleaning a messy room.  The first thing that always happens (at least when I clean a room) is that it gets even messier.  I start organizing things by taking them out of their places and spreading them out.  Before I know it, every surface including the bed and the floors has piles of stuff on it.  If I stopped at this point, the room would be worse than it started.  After sorting everything into piles, I can then put it away neatly and more organized than before.  The result is a much cleaner room.  An OS is similar.  The first thing you do is start removing old, working parts and replacing them with new parts.  These new parts start off less powerful and less stable than the parts they are replacing and only over time become more powerful.  A good example of this is in the world of audio.  The team I work on helped to produce the new audio stack in Windows.  For beta 1 the stack was present but didn't do much the old stack didn't do.  If we did our jobs right, all that work would never be noticed.  If we screwed up, things that worked before wouldn't work now.  For Beta 2 we are able to add all sorts of cool new features on top like per-app audio. 

   The point here is the early releases of the operating system (or any application going through a major overhaul) is going to look worse before it looks better.  Take heart those of you watching the process unfold.  Vista will be an exciting OS with lots of cool new features.  I've seen some of the recent Beta 2 builds and it is looking much more impressive.  I can't say anything about it but if you watch places like Channel 9, you'll probably see some of it soon.  You can also see some of it in the PDC demos which were given about a month ago.



  1. Yes, but 5 years is a long time. Until Microsoft will ship all the Vista features will have been replicated by the competition. Or, at least those features that are appealing to the common user like a better interface. You have been talking about Vista for years. You promised a miracle: a complete different 3d user interface, a new file system, a new graphics engine, a new search cabability, a new communications system, etc, etc. However, what do you find now: many of the promised features have been toned down and when you install beta1 or beta2, where is the cool new intrface? It all looks like XP! It will be improved I guess but the question is how much? Will it be that impressive as we have been promised? I do not think so. And what was Microsoft doing all these years. They could have produced Windows2010 if they have wnated and what do we get? A windows Vista that does not have something as much impressive as we have been promised and late in coming as well. I know that there will be lots of changes underneath but users will not see that. If they get a desktop that is like XP they will wonder what all the fuss was about. In the meantime Apple has implemented many of the Vista features in the os and before Vista has shipped. I believe that Microsoft should have done a better job and much faster.

  2. I think 'Nektar' completely missed the point of Steve's comments. What he's saying is that this is a work in progress and you're peaking at something that isn't even half-baked yet. The chrome comes later. If you looked at prototype cars more than a year before release, you'd be saying the same thing. It's like when people look at spy photos for new cars, only this is even earlier in the process.

  3. Well stated Sam. I am not making the claim that Vista will be all that Longhorn was once touted to be. Obviously with the removal of WinFS, Avalon, and Indigo, it is a scaled back release. My point was that you are seeing something before it is finished and that it doesn't look materially worse (in fact, it probably looks better) than other OS's at the same point in their life. The chrome is definitely the last thing to be added but it is the first thing people see. Keep that in mind when looking at the prerelease builds, screenshots, etc.

  4. I won't be the first to mention it but I thought I would add my $0.02 about it.  The February CTP...