If you have been reading here any length of time you may have noted that I don’t hold Microsoft in the highest regard. The fact that it has been on my mind may be responsible for the sidebar comment and the Vista review. What I have been considering doing is writing a bit of my personal history.
About 6 months before I graduated from college I was offered a job as an assembler programmer. If I had taken that job then, today I would likely be writing or designing code for operating systems (Windows, linux, etc.), device drivers (graphics or network adapters, printer drivers, etc.), or specialized hardware (mp3 players, cable or satellite set top boxes, robotics, etc.). I have written assembler code for process control type applications and used a bit of assemblier in DOS, but that’s pretty much it.
The job offer that I did accept about a week before I graduated was a close cousin to the assembly programmer. I became a systems programmer. My job was mostly spent keeping a small data centre and its network running. Most of the programming I did at the data centre was writing utilities, scripts and data conversion programs. Most of the utilities I wrote were for the express purpose of making my job easier. Or, as in this case, making it so that someone who wasn’t a programmer could do the routine parts of my job.
Initially the only operating system used in that data centre was VMS. Over the years I worked with MicroVMS, VMS, OpenVMS and OpenVMS AXP. OpenVMS can still be purchased on Itanium and Alpha systems from HP. Later other systems were added to the data centre including Novell Netware and variants of unix. Although it isn’t on my resume, I had a one year contract with Digital Equipment as a VMS consultant to work with 2 of their customers.
So, are you wondering what this has to do with Microsoft? Well, an engineer named Dave Cutler was one of the architects of VMS. He was also an architect of other operating systems including Windows NT. To anyone who has worked with both operating systems ‘under the hood’, the similarities are unmistakable.
Based on what I’ve said, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for someone to conclude that VMS has an associated third party industry of add-on security products like anti-virus software. But that isn’t the case. I won’t say that VMS never had any security issues. But, every version of Internet Explorer I’ve worked with has had far more security holes than VMS had in the 10+ years I worked with it. And, Windows NT (and derived versions) have had few security problems in the areas where the OS was/is similar to VMS.
About 20 years ago, I encountered a story/joke which is a bit crass, but illustrates a very valid point:
A woman was visiting her psychiatrist and says, “I’ve been married 3 times but I’m still a virgin.”
The psychiatrist asks her, “How is that possible?”
She says, “Well, my first fiance was in the military and got called to go overseas. We got married just before he left. He was killed in action before his first round of duty was up.
“My second husband was elderly. The wedding and reception put such a strain on him that he died of a heart attack on the way to the hotel.
“And, my third husband is in advertising. All he does is sit on the edge of the bed and tell me how good it’s going to be.”
IMO, the cornerstone of Microsoft’s success has not been writing good software, but in telling people how good it’s going to be. And, when compared to the promised and actual features of every other OS I’ve worked with, they have done an abysmal job delivering. I don’t suppose I’m really looking justify my opinion. Over the years I’ve met alot of programmers. Most of them had an unwritten priority of writing good software. Some were more skilled than others in doing that. What I think bothers me most about getting rich from bug ridden software is not the getting rich part (money is not the most important thing in the world), but in the stain said bug ridden software has on the reputation of the profession and those who practice the craft.