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   Everything You Know About Vista is Wrong, Part 1

 
hamesh
post Oct 7 2007, 08:35 PM
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People think all XP apps should be compatible with Vista, because in their minds Vista is just an evolution of XP. They're dead wrong, but several events have taken place that allow this view of the situation to remain the way people look at it.

Myth: "Vista is bad, Microsoft should just scrap the code and start over."
Fact: The reason you're mad at Vista is because Microsoft already scrapped Windows XP to make Vista.

To understand why people think this, and how it is totally false, we must dive into a (very) brief look back at the History of Windows.

The First Decade of Windows
Up until Windows 3.1, there was one set of code used to make Windows. That was developed over the course of Microsoft's first decade (through acquisitions and then their own development". Then MS incubated Windows New Technology (NT), which was to be the basis for a whole target market for Windows... an alternative to Unix. One of the main points, besides a radically different file storage system, as a brand-new User Interface.

While Windows NT was just getting going, Microsoft was still working on point releases to Windows 3.1. Windows at the time was a 16-bit OS, but that memory space was rapidly reaching the limit of its usefulness. So when 32-bit processors, Microsoft released a compatibility layer, called Win32s, on top of Windows 3.1... and developers started using this 32-bit layer to write some of their code. But even still, Microsoft had been working on the successor to Windows 3.1 for a little while before they discovered the 16-bit Windows 3.1 architecture had also outlived its usefulness. It was time to move on.

The Second Decade of Windows
Along with major architectural changes, (lessons learned from the initial 32-bit work with WinNT) Microsoft moved the same NT UI paradigm down to the client OS, which became Windows 95. To most Windows users, Windows 95 was a radically different experience, but that experience had been available in this Server OS for while when Win95 came out.

The media made a huge deal out how Vista wasn't going to live up to the frenzy that surrounded the launch of Windows 95... but most people forget what happened in the months after that frenzy... incompatible hardware and software, frustration, etc. Windows 95 brought this new concept called "plug-and-play" which had little driver support early-on. Getting your old apps working on this new system was a nightmare... and while many people bought it in droves, many people stayed away from it until it matured with Windows 95A, Windows95B, Windows 98, and Windows 98 SE.

For more than a decade, two versions of Windows drove in tandem... the 9x codebase for Consumers, and the NT codebase on the server. They shared a series of code technologies, but in a severely disjointed way. Nearly everything else - the core, the driver models, and the way they handled problems, even the software written for them - was radically different.

The Third Decade of Windows
In preparation for the Third Decade of Windows, a number of years ago Microsoft made a series of reorganizations to align Windows into a set of core technologies that would be unified across both the Client and Server space. One of the first fruits of that reorganization was the "Longhorn" project.

"Longhorn" a bunch of grand ideas that was supposed to take Windows into its Third Decade in style. But there was one fundamental flaw. Longhorn was tasked with enabling all these changes... but it was still being built from the 9x codebase. Like Windows 3.1 before it, Microsoft got a ways into the development before they realized that the 9X architecture had outlived its usefulness, and couldn't support the kind of innovation they were looking to enable. As much as we'd like to blame Microsoft for the issues with the Longhorn project (talking too early, biting off more than they could chew, etc) the real problem was that the road they started out on could not get them to their destination.

So in 2004, Microsoft decided to scrap "Longhorn" - and with it the entire Windows 9X codebase - and re-start development on their rock-solid Server platform, which has still evolved from its NT beginnings. Like the decade before it, Microsoft made a strategic decision to start a new decade with code that it thought would set it up for the next decade of software development.

Conclusion
So when people suggest that the Windows code should be scrapped for Windows 7, what they don't realize is Microsoft already made that move as an investment in the next 10 years of Windows, and the pains people are experiencing now is a side-effect of that decision.

But that decision introduced a whole new set of problems, which I will discuss in more detail in Part 2 of this four-part series.


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