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The Register
Monday 30th April, 2007 11:02 Comments: 4
I don't know if it's me or them, but I find The Register to be quite boring. I used to love the site, but now I don't like half of the articles, and some of the other content can be found on BBC News/Sky News. If it weren't for BOFH, which appears roughly every Friday afternoon, I'd probably abandon it altogether.

A recent article that showed up over the weekend and annoyed me was this one. Entitled "Vista - End of the Dream?", it starts off complaining about an open source program that is bloated and buggy - which isn't surprising given that it's only on version 0.7. Yes, it's fair to criticise the developers for taking so long to develop the application, and it's arguably fair to criticise the choice of language, but considering the title mentions Vista, I wasn't quite sure where the article was going. Then I reached Vista, or more specifically that XP was going to be supplied again by Dell, as many customers wanted XP over Vista.

Then, just as we reach the word Vista, we "backtrack a little" to the old days of MSDOS and its clean code. Not too surprising, considering it didn't really do much. Then we jump to 2004, when XP was around, and part of the source code for Windows 2000 was leaked onto the internet. The sources contained many now-famous comments including "We are morons", and Dave Jewell (the author of this article) describes it as "a vast sprawl of spaghetti in assembler, C, C++, all held together with blu-tack". It was still 4 years old code. And nearly another 3 years have passed since then.

Jewell states that "Just a few months after the leak, it was announced that WinFS, the flagship relational file system, wouldn't ship with Vista after all. And I knew why: unmaintainable". But I don't think that's the problem. If you followed one of the links he gives in his article, you come across this more balanced review of the source code:

In short, there is nothing really surprising in this leak. Microsoft does not steal open-source code. Their older code is flaky, their modern code excellent. Their programmers are skilled and enthusiastic. Problems are generally due to a trade-off of current quality against vast hardware, software and backward compatibility.

So, based on code written back in 2000, before Microsoft started breaking compatability in order to improve security (Windows XP SP2), and before the Secure Design Lifecycle (SDL) kicked in, their modern code was already "excellent". This pretty much contradicts what Jewell has said, which he claims is a problem for XP and Vista - despite no actual knowledge of the source code for these versions (admittedly, XP was 5.1 with few changes to the 5.0 code, but Vista is a major 6.0 release). And the dodgy code in 2000 is generally only there to provide backwards compatability, which probably isn't too much of a problem for newly developed things like WinFS, especially if they don't plan on backporting it (like DirectX 10 wasn't backported although I suspect that's partly for business reasons to encourage adoption of Vista). The modern code doesn't sound unmaintainable, if anything you'd expect them to revisit the older code and remove/replace/update it. Give that it's been 7 years, they probably already have.

And yet Jewell likes to repeat the word throughout the rest of his article. He doesn't even attempt to explain the reasons why he thinks the "unmaintainable" code has led to "people scratching their heads wondering what other advantages there are in upgrading your graphics card and adding another GByte of RAM" - even though, for example, the graphics drivers are now in user mode instead of kernel, which improves stability, and the entirely new display model has presumably meant virtually a complete rewrite of the old (arguably "unmaintainable") code.

He also says "since XP was launched, Apple have come out with five major upgrades to OS X, upgrades which (dare I say it?) install with about as much effort as it takes to brush your teeth in the morning" - which is no surprise given the tiny market share and the virtual monopoly Apple has over the hardware they have to support. And as Yamahito pointed out to me, 10.4.9 has a fair number of problems (and I gather 10.4.6 had loads of trouble too). You can see the problems with a quick search on Google.

The comments left on the article sum up most of my concerns. Jewell has even left a comment that says:

One thing's for sure: "generally excellent" code can't be immediately equated with good design. An individual brick might be a great brick, but that doesn't mean you'll get a great house when you put a few million of em together...

Well I think he's right, just because you can spell, string a few sentences together, split them into paragraphs and put them in the right order on a page, it doesn't mean you can write a good article.
Avatar Yamahito - Monday 30th April, 2007 11:20
We had quite a good argument about this yesterday, and one of the points you didn't make that perhaps you should have done was Windows' backwards compatibility requirements (as well as hardware support requirements, which I argued was less pertinent these days) are a lot harder to account for than Apple's.

Of course, that could be a score for either side ;)
Avatar Fab - Monday 30th April, 2007 12:12
I thought that article was a bit strange. Comparing Windows to MS DOS is a bit drastic and odd and there is no way the guy could properly understand the code in Vista to form an accurate judgement in anything less than several years.

The question should be, is it worth upgrading to Vista now? The honest answer I think (for us plebs) is no because XP is good enough and we can't see it as big a jump as it was back when XP came out when it was blatantly superior to ME, 98 and 2000. In time Vista may well turn out to be worthwhile, I just don't think you can expect everyone to get massively excited and it hasn't been publically bashed around enough to be proven as stable and secure. We leave that pleasure to the geeks who are paid to get excited about such things!
Avatar Robert - Tuesday 1st May, 2007 11:24
After reading through the comments left on the original article, I felt compelled to write the following, but it turns out you need to register with The Register in order to post, and I didn't feel like doing so for a site I am considering abandoning.

Most people commenting on here have fallen into the generic OSX vs Vista debate, and have perhaps missed that this article is criticizing Vista because of "unmaintainable" code (and not due to hardware requirements or ease of use).

This assumption of "unmaintainable" code is based on Jewell's interpretation of source code from Windows 2000, which appears to differ slightly to the opinion of one of his sources. Seeing as Jewell hasn't actually seen the source of Vista, it can easily be argued that his concerns and beliefs may be completely unfounded (and it is equally impossible to prove anything either way). Vista is a major release (6.0), rather than the point upgrade that XP (5.1) was over 2000 (5.0). Vista has introduced new ways of handling audio (which appears to have caused major driver headaches for Creative, although they were just as bad at supporting XP when it first appeared), graphics (user mode instead of kernel, desktop composition to allow things like transparency effects, new approach to hardware acceleration - the thumbnails of WMP show what you're watching in the main window), file sharing (SMBv2, although it does fall back when talking to legacy systems) and even the network stack has been completely rewritten to natively support IPv6. Given how Microsoft chose security over compatability with Windows XP SP2, and introduced the Secure Design Lifecycle, I find it hard to believe that there's that much unmaintainable code left in Vista.

Also, as many others have previously mentioned, Jewell's dig at Windows when installing service packs seems a little unfair given the problems caused by OSX 10.4.6 and 10.4.9.
Avatar Robert - Tuesday 1st May, 2007 12:10
BOFH not available in feeds
23 October 2006, 10:12:22
Thanks for your interest in the Bastard Operator from Hell. Simon Travaglia, the author of BOFH, has asked us to remove links to his articles from our RSS feeds. We will not restore the BOFH RSS feeds without his permission.

Perhaps I'll have to write my own parser to take the BOFH page and turn it into an RSS feed. For private use only, of course.
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