Saturday, March 24, 2007


I just finished reading Showstopper! by G. Pascal Zachary.  It recounts the creation of Windows NT starting with the hiring of Dave Cutler in October 1988 and ending with the shipping of the first version of NT on July 26, 1993.  The book puts a lot in perspective.  NT took nearly 5 years of grueling work.  The book spends a lot of time talking about the impact work on NT had on the personal lives of the team members.  Many didn't see their families much at all for extended periods of time.  It wasn't uncommon for people to pull repeated all-nighters.  We seem to have learned something from this in the past decade.

The book also calls out the contribution of the testing teams.  This is rare in these sort of books.  I've read about the creation of the Mac, the IMP, the XBox, etc. and almost never is testing mentioned.  It's good to read a book which recounts not only the work done by developers but also the heroic efforts of the testers.

If you have an interest in computing history or in the development of large systems, this book is a good one to pick up.  It puts you in the middle of the creation of the OS that runs on so many computers across the world.

I also ran across this interesting paragraph talking about the app-compat work:

The conflict stemmed from the differing priorities of the two sides.  Intent on refining their general model, programmers didn't want to distract themselves by fixing bugs.  Meanwhile, testers wanted to test.  This was a pointless activity when they saw the same bugs week after week. (p. 257)

That sounds a lot like what I was mentioning in my post about single-focus roles.  Each side is so focused on what it is tasked with doing that it doesn't take into account the needs of the other side.


  1. Hmmm. Starts in 1998 and finishes in 1994?

  2. It's an excellent book. I've passed it off to some of my colleagues to read, and I've forgotten who has it.
    I completely agree about the book's mention of the testing team's work. I've pointed this out to many people as justification for testers having automated tests as well as a knowledge of the programming language being used.

  3. @M - Thanks.  I've fixed it.
    @Jerry - I agree.  There is space for testers doing manual work but if that is the bulk of testing, most projects are in trouble.  Automation is definitely necessary.

  4. Off by one, Windows NT was released in 1993.

  5. @Dan - Sigh.  You're right.  That'll teach me to type things up at midnight.  I'll go fix it.

  6. I also found Showstopper! fascinating. Blogs, while useful and insightful, just don't replace this type of storytelling.
    It was interesting to watch the (fairly) recent interview with Rob Short that was put up on channel9 ( I really resonated with Rob's thinking about doing more up front design reviews in software design.

  7. I read that book as part of my series on reading about yesterday's technology tomorrow.  ;)
    Speaking of testing, the book "Inside Windows NT" by Helen Custer has a foreward from Dave Cutler.  The second to last paragraph says "Perhaps the most important contribution of all was that made by the people who have tested and stressed the system.  Without their effort, Windows NT could not have achieved the level of quality that it has achieved."  A very interesting comment from a company that appears to place their developers at the top of the pecking order.
    Another interesting book that focuses more on the executive-level decision making in Microsoft is "Breaking Windows".

  8. Thanks for the recommendation of "Breaking Windows."  I have a copy of it on my to-read list.  It just got bumped up a few positions.