Thursday, March 08, 2007

Software Development at Microsoft.

Ever wondered why Microsoft Windows is so horrible to use? Here is a description of how the "Shutdown" option was coded. Excerpts from The Windows Shutdown Crapfest:
... that nets us an estimate ... of 24 people involved in this feature. Also each [of the three teams] was separated by 6 layers of management from the leads, so let's add them in too, giving us 24 + (6 * 3) + 1 (the shared manager) 43 total people with a voice in this feature. Twenty-four of them were connected sorta closely to the code, and of those twenty four there were exactly zero with final say in how the feature worked. Somewhere in those other 19 was somebody who did have final say but who that was I have no idea

[H]ere's how the design process worked: approximately every 4 weeks, at our weekly meeting, our PM would say, "the shell team disagrees with how this looks/feels/works" and/or "the kernel team has decided to include/not include some functionality which lets us/prevents us from doing this particular thing". And then in our weekly meeting we'd spent approximately 90 minutes discussing how our feature -- er, menu -- should look based on this "new" information. Then at our next weekly meeting we'd spend another 90 minutes arguing about the design, then at the next weekly meeting we'd do the same, and at the next weekly meeting we'd agree on something... just in time to get some other missing piece of information from the shell or kernel team, and start the whole process again.

Windows has a tree of repositories: developers check in to the nodes, and periodically the changes in the nodes are integrated up one level in the hierarchy. At a different periodicity, changes are integrated down the tree from the root to the nodes. In Windows, the node I was working on was 4 levels removed from the root. The periodicity of integration decayed exponentially and unpredictably as you approached the root so it ended up that it took between 1 and 3 months for my code to get to the root node, and some multiple of that for it to reach the other nodes.

So in addition to the above problems with decision-making, each team had no idea what the other team was actually doing until it had been done for weeks. The end result of all this is what finally shipped: the lowest common denominator, the simplest and least controversial option.