Deep Dive Sunday
Two great stories for Deep Dive Sunday.
Deconstructing the Failure of Windows Vista from the Inside
Hackernoon's Terry Crowley dissects the broad dysfunction of the Window's Vista release cycle from his vantage point of a member of the Office Team at the time.
The deprioritization of Internet Explorer and HTML:I apologize for the length. The TL;DR; version is:Microsoft badly misjudged the underlying trends in computer hardware, in particular the right turn that occurred in 2003 to the trend of rapid improvements in single-threaded processor speed and matching improvements in other core elements of the PC. Vista was planned for and built for hardware that did not exist. This was bad for desktops, worse for laptops and disastrous for mobile.The bet on C# and managed code was poorly motivated and poorly executed. This failure in particular can be laid directly on Bill Gates and his fruitless Holy Grail effort to create a universal storage and universal canvas applications infrastructure. This had especially long-running consequences.Windows project management had teetered on catastrophic throughout its history with a trail of late projects that stumbled to completion. Vista was a disaster but was just the culmination of a series of near-catastrophes in the core executive mission of complex project execution.
Key to the failure was Microsoft missing the obvious trend in hardware:Also catastrophically, the bet on Avalon had been paired with a major disinvestment in IE. The IE team was gutted to staff Avalon and IE was left on life support struggling to address the torrent of security issues cascading in. The vision was that HTML would be a legacy technology and the kinds of applications our competitors were targeting for the browser and HTML would be built on top of the new Avalon infrastructure.This was a huge strategic mistake and opened up a gap for the rise of Firefox and then the Chrome browser from Google. Whether continued investment in IE would have prevented that is impossible to tell, but it certainly did not help. It also hamstrung the IE team and left them unprepared and unstaffed to address the continuing rapid evolution of web technologies which degraded IE’s reputation with web developers. The fact that it was a mistake was apparent across the company immediately; there was no need for twenty-twenty hindsight. Office and other parts of the company had large investments in the web and HTML. There was no plausible path where those investments would move over to Avalon, much less expecting the entire industry to move. In fact there was never even an attempt by the Avalon team to describe a plausible path — something magical would happen and suddenly everyone would be building Avalon apps instead of on HTML. It was absurd as well as being unconscionable. Immediately after we “won” the browser wars and saw Netscape absorbed by AOL, we radically cut further development in these open standard technologies. It was not until Windows 7 that we re-staffed the IE team and restarted aggressive investment in IE and standard web technologies.
Vista was shipping into an environment where the shift to mobility was gaining more and more speed. Revenue totals for laptops passed desktops in 2003; by 2005 laptops also passed desktops in total units sold. Because Vista ran so poorly on newer cheap laptops (“netbooks”), Microsoft was forced to let OEMs continue selling Windows XP for those lower end machines.
An important part of what was happening here was a deeper problem — the basic sufficiency of the desktop form factor for the jobs it was being asked to do. The basic use cases — productivity (mostly Office), communications, browsing (including search, web sites and web applications), custom internal line-of-business applications, front ends to custom devices (think of your dentist’s x-ray machine) had mostly stabilized by 2000 and have not changed much since then. Microsoft could continue building new APIs but mostly the devices already did what users needed. The improvements desired by users — better manageability, stability, performance, security on the software side and longer battery life, lighter weight, faster processors, faster communications, bigger screens on the hardware side in many cases needed less software, not more.
Marissa Mayer's Yahoo Legacy
The New York Times breaks down how Marissa Mayer made a fortune for herself and Yahoo's stock holders.