Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Why The 'Steve Jobs Reveal' Should Be Dead

I took a walk down memory lane today, in the form of test driving the "Longhorn Reloaded" project. There are some people out there that really miss the "Pillars of Longhorn", and want to see the original concept completed. So they're risking being castrated by MSLegal to stabilize and release the Longhorn build that was put out at WinHEC 2004. It allowed me the opportunity to look at what Longhorn could have been, and what actually came to be, all on the same machine. (For the record, I think the project is a waste of time, but it was fun to poke around for 30 minutes or so.)

It reminded me of the way things were before Vista. There was a time not so long ago, where regular people didn't have a say in the way that software was developed. Microsoft (in particular) developers assumed that they knew more than you did about the way Windows should work. They went underground, building whatever they felt you wanted, never seeing the light of day. Then one day, they would reappear to show the world what they had built. And you were going to LIKE IT, DAMNIT! Cause you didn't have a choice in the matter.

Then PDC 2003 came around, and Microsoft shared more about Windows earlier than they ever had before. And people got really excited about the vision. Over the course of the ensuing three years, as software often does, the plan changed a couple times. The tech press lambasted Microsoft for not being able to accomplish their vision, and Longhorn was maligned ad nauseam. Most of this was simply disappointment that the vision was being built on a foundation of sand, and it wasn't possible to align development schedules on the massive scale Microsoft was attempting.

The problem with having something completely finished when it is announced (AKA the "Steve Jobs 'Reveal'") is that it doesn't allow people to get their feedback into the product. I can't tell you how many times during the process of testing "Whistler" (Windows XP) when my feedback was closed as "By Design", and no changes were made. If you didn't like the way things were... tough crap, deal with it.

The Vista beta process was a totally different beast. Sure, I still had my share of bugs closed as "not reproducible" in 30 seconds without any tester notes whatsoever. But there are plenty of places where my feedback made a difference (Remember the Network Center in Longhorn Beta 2? It was BAD). Sure, it took a little longer, but the result was an outstanding user experience that is centered around user-driven feedback.

So in looking at the Longhorn Reloaded project today, it made me realize that for all the eye candy that disappeared when Avalon was yanked from the Longhorn core, Vista is much better that the original Longhorn vision. I mean, can the "return" of WinFS really compensate for the lack of SideShow, Web Services for Devices, the networking improvements, DirectX 10, Windows Media Center, Aero, Flip3D, ASLR, the Games Center, the speech improvements, Digital Cable Tuners... I mean the list goes on and on. After about 15 minutes, Longhorn reloaded is worthless. An animated login screen is cool, but compared to Vista... there's no comparison.

So here is my point. Microsoft's cancellation of PDC 2007 today is just more evidence that Microsoft is using the "Steve Jobs Circle Jerk" as proof that Microsoft shouldn't talk about products until they have a concrete execution plan, and tangible results. That strategy is just wrong. Concrete usually equals unchangeable, and I don't want to have to fight tooth and nail to get

Some people argue that the strategy works for Office, and it's true that Sinofsky has stuck to a solid ship schedule. But before Office 2007, the Office platform hasn't been compelling since Office XP... as evidenced by the fact that Office 2003 adoption was relatively nowhere near as strong as it should have been. Compare that to Office 2007, the most compelling release to date whose sales have been fantastic. So the 18 month ship schedule is not all it's cracked up to be.

Microsoft answer to completely open source development was to keep the source, but open the development process up to the people. They had a bunch of kinks to work out, but it was a good answer. The new management regime at Microsoft wants to go back to the old way, because it caught them less flak in the press. But if they stay this course, the result could be far worse: people who are dissatisfied with their products, and have no recourse (because their feedback arrives too late in the dev cycle to change anything). It's an idea that is just as bad as this press release. I remember that time. It sucked. I don't want to go back there... do you?

Instead of being silent, Microsoft should be involving us from day one, showing a select group of beta testers what they want to focus on, and letting us give feedback, before they even start coding. That would allow them to ensure that they don't waste time on stuff that could get pulled later (WinFS, I'm talking to you). Screw the talking heads, and screw the tech press. 90% of Microsoft's customers don't read the rags that bashed Longhorn anyways. Keep the process open.. you'll save money, and your users will thank you.



  • A said:

    As an employee at Microsoft, I don't think you should interpret the cancellation of the PDC as a "return to secrecy". Rather take it as: "We really don't have anything to talk about that would make this worth your time and money."

    Doing a conference just for the sake of a conference is really not an effective use of anyone's resources.

    May 25, 2007 1:20 AM
  • Bryan said:

    RE: A

    That's a good point, but it's not at all surprising that some would interpret the cancellation in this way since it does seem Microsoft is being less forthcoming in an effort to manage PR. For example, where the heck is this "Vista SP1? There's no such thing..." crap coming from after months if not years of telling people that it would ship roughly around the same time as Server '08?

    Another thing that bothered me was, maybe a week before WinHEC, when it was announced that the entity framework wasn't shipping in 3.5. I was irritated by the lack of a descent explaination at the time, yet in like of the things that were subsequently revealed--such as Jasper--it makes a lot more sense. So why didn't Microsoft instead discuss the change in delivery of entities in context with these technologies at WinHEC? That way we could skip the pissed off and bewildered phase and be a bit disheartened yet intrigued, I get the impression that the PR weasels were just determined that no bad news would taint the WinHEC announcements.

    It's not just about the transparent development process (though that has regressed substantially it seems), but it's getting harder to believe that Microsoft wants to talk with us like adults.

    May 25, 2007 2:09 AM
  • A: On that point, I completely agree with you. I'm just saying that if PDC doesn't return until the second half of 08, we'll have less of a chance to make a difference on software that is shipping in early to mid-09 that if MS was being more open about it.

    May 25, 2007 2:29 AM
  • Aaron said:

    "it took a little longer"...2 years is a bit more than "little".

    But anyway, Microsoft promised too much, and failed to deliver it. So they were always doomed to be lambasted by the press and everyone, regardless of what Vista turned out to be. So you're last paragraph hits the nail on the head, keep the process open and try to get the vision right in the first place, and deliver on that.

    Then Microsoft can blame you if no one likes it :P

    May 25, 2007 4:21 AM
  • Amir said:

    You seem to be forgetting that every version of OSX has had a relatively lengthy testing period, where developers can get to grips with new technologies, submit bugs, and feedback garnered.

    There are even distribution lists (which OSX devs take part in and exchange feedback), workshops, keynotes and tutorial videos hosted by Apple.  Not quite MSDN, or as open a gestation as Vista was, but the premise that OSX is closed until its shipped is not true.  

    May 25, 2007 5:33 AM
  • Tomer Chachamu said:

    The Network and Sharing Center still sucks. I have a lot of trouble just getting to a list of network devices so that I know which one I'm turning on instead of clicking "Connect to a network" (which doesn't always get it right). Also getting to the MAC address is difficult, even when it realises the wireless network chose to deny access. Why can't it just give you the MAC address there so that I know what to add to my "allowed devices" list?

    Damn frustrating.

    May 25, 2007 5:50 AM
  • May 25, 2007 6:35 AM
  • Dave Murdock said:

    Amir is right. Also, if you register for free to be a member of the Apple Developer Connection (ADC), you can file bugs at any time on any Apple product, beta or shipping.

    And it is monitored and they ask for additional feedback all the time.

    May 25, 2007 7:39 AM
  • Raiker said:

    The truth is that SideShow, Web Services for Devices, the networking improvements, DirectX 10, Windows Media Center, Aero, Flip3D, ASLR, the Games Center, the speech improvements, Digital Cable Tuners is nothing when you see demos from PDC 2003. And, hey, 4074 has flip 3d, it was "alt+tab" effect.

    May 25, 2007 8:11 AM
  • May 25, 2007 8:41 AM
  • David said:

    I suspect MS got lambasted in the press because they touted Vista would be the end all be all of PCs.  It didn't turn out that way, but is still a very good OS regardless and a great evoluationary step.

    Promise less, ship more.

    May 25, 2007 9:30 AM
  • C#r said:

    MSFT is blaming the messenger... the fact that Jim A's first shot out of the box with a new (more public) dev process took some rough hits was NOT the fault of the process. The open process was "just the messenger" (it keeps the dev community as informed as it provides feedback to MSFT). As Robert aludes, the fault was a bad set of project mgmt decisions.

    Consider this: What if Sinofsky's (tell no story before it's time--as in completely baked) dev process had been in place since 03? Would the "Longhorn reset" not occurred? No. It just would have happened behind closed doors. Now consider the larger picture: a couple of years earlier MSFT had taken a lot of money from a lot of people for the Open XXXX Licensing V6 plans. That was sold on the idea that "we have produced an OS every 18 to 30 months" (Steve B's exact words at multiple events). So MSFT would have taken a ton of customer money and then--in complete silence--taken 6 yrs to produce a new OS.

    Not only would Vista not been as good--that's Robert's point--the press would have slammed MSFT even worse. Can you imagine the headlines when MSFT announced yet another multiseason delay with no visibility outside? The real question isn't would Vista not have been as good--that's obvious. The real question is if the class action law suit would have succeeded in destroying MSFT!

    May 25, 2007 10:25 AM
  • James Hancock said:

    If you call the Networking center in Vista an improvement... wow.

    Takes forever just to get to your network card to do anything. I still don't have a clue what the mess is when you go into the network and sharing center. Waste of space.

    I want into my connections, and I want it immediately from the icon in the tray. I want to be able to see the status of each connection, not some munged up one that doesn't tell me if my wireless is working right or if the lan is or both.

    For users that don't understand what a network card is, it might be OK. For the rest of us, it's a pain in the butt that should be put out of it's misery.

    May 25, 2007 11:11 AM
  • Bob said:

    Very good post. Kudos.

    May 25, 2007 11:19 AM
  • S said:


    Apple's documentation is bad, their secrecy means they try and develop broken APIs in a vacuum (CoreImage has API holes you could drive a truck through), and the OS X testing periods are atrociously short.

    No, the culture of secrecy at Apple is a mess and Microsoft should in no way admire, emulate, respect or follow it.  

    I contrast that to the openness at PDC03 and PDC05, the early Vista seeds giving us plenty of time to prepare, none of this holding back features for WWDC, the app compatibility testing Microsoft does - developing for Windows is more pleasant than for the Mac.  Oh, and Microsoft isn't trying to force Objective C down our throats either (and is pretty darned good about not trying to force us to use C# either!).

    May 25, 2007 1:16 PM
  • B said:

    This entire project is a joke

    I think AeroXperience's Retrophase project is a lot a better where they are simply trying to recreate all the goodies from Longhorn and are then trying to integrate it to Windows Vista. So far they have had lots of achievements and not to mention Retrophase is a project which is contributed by every user and developer and is not restricted to the staff

    May 25, 2007 3:04 PM
  • I haven't seen that project, so I wouldn't know.

    Please keep in mind that the point was not to bash Longhorn Reloaded. It was fun to play around with for an hour. The point was that MS should not be secretive about their development projects moving forward, just because the tech press gets their rocks off every time Steve Jobs is onstage, and that's how Apple develops things.

    May 25, 2007 7:16 PM
  • S: while I agree that some APIs are lacking, you have to remember that Apple has a much faster release cycle than Microsoft. Core Image is lacking, Core Data is lacking in areas etc. The difference is that Apple can afford to ship an API that may be lacking, but provides a decent base to build on. They can then improve them in future versions of the OS. While this approach isn't the best, Apple has a policy of introducing and improving technology over time. And often you can get better feedback by getting something out there in the real world than by having a select group of beta testers.

    May 26, 2007 4:16 AM
  • Who builds on Apple's stuff? Adobe, Microsoft, Roxio... who else? Only a handful of companies can afford to support Apple anymore, whatever the userbase. Apple wants to be the one that builds every app you need for the Mac.

    Martin, the strategy you're talking about is Microsoft's too... so why do they get lambasted for it, but it's OK if Apple does it?

    May 26, 2007 6:18 PM
  • Companies who build on Apple's stuff: Bare Bones Software, Flying Meat, Red Sweater Software, Delicious Monster, The Omni Group, Panic, Rogue Amoeba, Think Mac Software, Macromates, Plasq, Reinvented Software, RealMac Software, Mac Rabbit, Unsanity and M Cubed (my own company). And that is just a handful of development companies on the Mac.

    And it hasn't been Microsoft's strategy recently. The time between XP and Vista was 6 years, in that time MS has not shipped a new consumer OS but has shown off Vista in it's various stages to developers. Apple on the other hand has shipped updates to OS X over the past 6 years. Both companies get feedback on the products, they just take different approaches to how and when to get that feedback

    May 28, 2007 4:08 AM
  • Albert Benson said:

    What do these companies build for the Apple platform that matter?  Nothing.

    It's a technical toyland for kids, hobbyists, gamers, educators and marketeers.

    Sure, I bought an eMac for my family and my wife and daughter like it, but do I?  No.  Would I ever bother to develop for it?  Not in a million years...

    Apple build consumer trinkets.

    Microsoft is building the future of serious computing.

    There's a vast difference between the two and comparing the two companies is without value.

    May 28, 2007 9:30 AM
  • buddhistMonkey said:

    If you had bought $1000 worth of AAPL on the day that Steve Jobs did his first "one more thing" reveal, you'd have roughly $60,000 today. Seems to me that his approach works just fine for Apple, its customers and its shareholders. The fact is, Apple is the biggest success story in the tech world right now, and with rare exception, every time Jobs introduces "just one more thing," the product is a hit.

    Mac users like the fact that when a product is revealed during a Stevenote, it's usually available for purchase immediately, or in the very near term. We don't have to wait six years, and then be disappointed when the product doesn't measure up to the hype. In other words, leave Steve Jobs and Apple out of it.

    As far as Microsoft goes, you're right. They can't pull it off, and shouldn't even try. Notoriously, new Microsoft products are failures out of the gate until at least Version 3.0, whereas Apple gets it right on the first take more often than not. That Microsoft can't successfully emulate Apple's strategy speaks volumes about Microsoft, but says nothing at all about any flaw in the "Steve Jobs reveal."

    May 28, 2007 1:57 PM
  • buddhistMonkey,

    This wasn't an article bashing Apple, so there is no need to get defensive. My argument was for Microsoft to be more open... so chill out and pass whatever it is you're smoking.

    May 28, 2007 3:13 PM
  • buddhistMonkey said:

    ((( "This wasn't an article bashing Apple, so there is no need to get defensive. My argument was for Microsoft to be more open... so chill out and pass whatever it is you're smoking." )))

    You title your article "Why The 'Steve Jobs Reveal' Should Be Dead" and talk about a "Steve Jobs Circle Jerk," and then cry foul when a Mac user takes offense? Oh, puh-lease. That's such a right-wing radio tactic, including your accusation that I must be "smoking" something if I see things differently than you do. I didn't even really criticize your article at all, other than to point out that the "Steve Jobs Reveal" works perfectly well for Steve Jobs. You should take your own advice and "chill out" (but lay off the drugs).

    May 28, 2007 10:03 PM
  • The Steve Jobs Reveal shows an arrogance in product design, meaning that they thing that it's finished and don't give a damn what users think. That's fine, it works great for Steve Jobs. It doesn't work for Microsoft, especially when they have been more open in the past.

    And the "smoking something" had to do with Apple being the "biggest success story in the tech world right now", because there are at least 20-30 other companies that are more successful. Microsoft has like 6x Apple's EBITDA, which is a far more accurate measurement of a company's success then their ability to generate buzz.

    At any rate, while my point was not about the Steve Jobs Circle Jerk, you did make it crystal clear that it is not a myth.

    May 28, 2007 10:49 PM
  • @albert: "What do these companies build for the Apple platform that matter?  Nothing."

    That's like asking what companies build for Windows that matters and saying nothing. In that group of developers I listed you have software for audio, development (both web and desktop), productivity, creativity and in some cases, just general fun. As for why to develop for the Mac, small teams can make far more money on the Mac than on Windows. 10 out of the 15 companies up there have 3 employees or less.

    I suggest you actually check out the software by these companies. There is software on the Mac for almost anything you could want to do on Windows (though there is a distinct lack of kitchen and garden design software). I also find it amusing that you say that the Mac is for gamers. Even I admit that the Mac sucks for gaming. If you want the real target markets for the Mac it's consumers, education, small business and science.

    May 29, 2007 4:36 AM
  • June 5, 2007 11:02 AM
  • I haven't been a real big fan of Microsoft's PR machine post-Allchin. It seems like as soon as Jim left

    July 24, 2007 11:30 PM
  • Matt Freestone brings up an excellent point about all the crap going on about SP1 . I've been having

    July 26, 2007 2:15 PM