Dvorak: Microsoft Should Dump Vista, Anoint a 'Code Pope'

Microsoft needs to back up and re-fork its OS development from Windows 2000 Professional or even Windows NT 4.0.

Then it needs to find a "pope" who can understand the code base. Let me explain.

First, the coders seem to assume that Windows 2000 Professional is the best version of the system ever. There are a lot of reasons for this assumption, not the least of which is that you can do multiple installs without having to call Microsoft Central and explain why.

It's also not the most visually attractive version of Windows, and that has a certain appeal to the pizza-eating slobs who tend to be heavily into coding. (I'm ducking flying pizza.)

Okay, kidding aside, there is a phenomenon in the industry known as forking. And it's not about the pizza. It's about a code base going in two separate directions, sometimes three.

This seems to happen a lot in the open-source community, where there is no dictator telling them not to go in various directions.

Forking up

A fork generally stems from one group thinking that another group is a bunch of idiots and asserting that direction A is better than direction B. So a group will simply go off in direction A and tell the other coders to get lost.

The other coders continue on their merry way in direction B and may or may not do better than the "rebels." The rebels do better more often than not, but not always.

Generally speaking, the whole process is good, since it creates competitive thought and action. I'm guessing that's why open-source coding has so much power at the end of the development cycle but little at the beginning.

This is just the opposite of what we see with directed, closed-source software. And it's also the reason Microsoft will eventually be killed off unless it discovers a new closed-source mechanism — one that doesn't result in messes like Vista.

If Microsoft does not change, and in the years ahead produces another Vista fiasco, then the company is done for.

There is one opportunity sitting in front of it right now. That is the option for someone to tell the crew to go back in time and fork Windows 2000 back to its state before Win XP was rolled out. In other words, scrap everything that went into Win XP.

Scrapping code and backtracking is very difficult to accept, but it's the only way. In fact, the minute that Vista started falling apart, Microsoft should have pulled the plug on development and gone back to square one, at the Windows 2000–XP schism.

Pope rationale

Of course, none of this is possible if the code isn't well enough documented, and you get the distinct feeling that half of Windows is poorly documented.

I've been convinced for years that one of the reasons Microsoft does not want to reveal its source code to the European Union under edict (or to anyone else) is because the code is so sloppy and poorly documented that it would be subject to extreme ridicule. Seriously, it probably is.

Part of the problem is what I've been hearing for years. Microsoft does not keep anyone on the Windows team who understands how it works. So it's become a mishmash of spaghetti code. It's a mess — and running on spit and a prayer.

Only Microsoft management can be blamed for this, because they don't have a "Windows Pope" who would be expected to understand the innards of the OS and be able to pass the secrets on to a protégé who would become the next Windows Pope.

Instead, you had a bunch of guys who wanted to do this or that and float around the company as middle managers or "idea men."

Over time, I'm told, not a soul at the company has a grip on the overall nature and structure of Windows itself. Thus, you have a mess because of ambitious coders who all want to be bosses.

The key to making my idea work would be to glorify and pay a million dollars a year to the Code Pope. He would know everything there is to know about Windows and would have the job for life.

It might even work if there was a Pope team of three or four people who had the final say on things. This sort of structure would actually work well in complex situations.

Linux has a small group of cardinals with a pope — Linus Torvalds — so the model does work.

Microsoft had better do it.

Go off-topic with John C. Dvorak.

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