The old new thing

Sorry for not posting much this week, one of the reasons is trying to finish reading my new book – The Old New Thing by Raymond Chen.

Its a really interesting read, although a bit of C/C++ knowledge helps with some of the real techy stuff.

Raymond is a backwards compatibility fan, and in his book he discusses all manner of things the Windows team and others have had to do to keep things working.

His philosophy is simple – if peoples stuff doesn’t work on the latest Microsoft release they wont upgrade. Joel has a great article about the inner tensions at MS between the ‘MSDN’ crowd who love new stuff and aren’t so bothered about backwards compatibility, and the Raymond Chen school of thought, here:

A couple of points instantly spring to mind:

  1. It feels a bit like MS have lost some of that backwards compatibility love with some of the 2007 software
  2. It must be well hard dragging around all that compatibility baggage of the last 10-20 years.
  3. Security changes everything

Taking 1. first, to move forward you have to break, or at least dent, backwards compatibility from time to time. Most reasonable people will live with that if they can see the benefit (to themselves especially). (I am still not clear what the plus’s of the Ribbon are for me, compared with the huge negatives of shuffling and hiding all the commands I need, and stealing too much of my screen, and not being usefully flexible….)

One of the problems with introducing breaking changes to products is it destabilises the market for add-on services (and other stuff) as people transition. Some providers will dive in there and be in a great position to help the early adopters, some will hang back to see how the market reacts and what the potential business value is. I am in this second group. And as far as I can see Office 2007 work is so far in the future for my clients and therefore for me, its genuinely unlikely to happen. Office 14 is probably more likely I reckon.

I think the big take home point is that the next Office update organisations do will be quite painful, but if they can then lookforward to 10 years of low pain changes then that begins to make sense. Updates, migrations and changes are just part of the normal day to day activity in IT, the key point is to not get backed into a corner that makes this more unpleasant than it needs to be.

 I deliberately havent mentioned ‘productivity improvements’ claimed for all software updates. I have never seen people suddenly going home on time because they got a new os or office suite.

On the second point, past success can really come back to haunt in the long term. When you think about it, MS are really doing an impressive job overall. But I can also see how a younger organisation with a smaller legacy could easily outmanoeuvre them in some areas. I am watching Apple in particular on this point.

On the security front, I think in 5 years time we will look back on the freedoms we have now, and barely be able to believe what we get away with. It will be like seatbelts and kids car seats. Not using these safety devices is almost unheard of now, and you can almost touch the danger if you go 100 yards with out belting up. Yet I remember happily not wearing a seatbelt before it was made compulsory – and I wasn’t scared of instant death.

Although we all know that VSTO is a mega PITA to deploy, and VISTA can be painful security wise, I think that is the pain we will have to get used to. I think the days of happy-go lucky emailing VBA solutions around are severly numbered. Its already almost impossible to email exes around (easily fixed by changing the extension – which tells us something too!), .vbs and .js and .scr also rarely make it through. I really do think our highly effective, business focused VBA solutions will be a target at some point soon. Do you?

I think we are entering an era of increased security, and that will come at a cost of speed and ease of delivery of our solutions. The precise cost, and the speed of uptake I don’t know, but I’m sure there will be plenty of customers for fast, cheap, effective VBA based stuff for many years.

I always thought part of Microsofts success was that they focused on giving customers functionality, where the *nix folks seemed to focus more on security. Its starting to feel like MS are having to change focus.

Anyway back to the book, I highly recommend it as great peripheral reading. Anyone else read it?



4 Responses to “The old new thing”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    Security and backwards compatibility are deeply intertwined, and that’s where the worst trouble lies for Microsoft. There’s too much old software that still needs to write things to the registry, to %SystemRoot%, to %ProgramFiles% for Windows to be secure. UAC in Vista deserves to be the joke it’s become. Repeating something I’ve mentioned before, until Windows can run from a live CD like many Linux distributions, I’m going to remain unconvinced Microsoft understands security.

    With regard to distribution, admin packages like WinInstall make it possible to completely wipe an reinstall PCs remotely, and they can handle .Net distributions without wiping and reinstalling everything. So it looks to me as though Microsoft just isn’t motivated to provide you 3rd party developers with adequate distribution tools for VSTO. But I don’t know the details, so I’m likely to be wrong.

    In a nutshell, the way Microsoft is handling security is wrong. It seems to me it’s motivated in part by having to deal with legacy insecure software. Until they make a break with that aspect of the past, UAC will remain the security paradigm we have to live with. If you want to understand what’s wrong with that, try a Mac running OS X.

  2. Marcus Says:

    I recall reading an article some time ago about the failure of DATs (Digit Audio Tapes) in the marketplace. One of the reasons cited was compatibility. DATs were released shortly after CD’s, but long enough after for many people to invest in CD players and replace their vinyl music collection in CD format. Regardless of claims that DAT’s were superior to CD’s few would incur the expenditure or migrating for a marginal benefit.
    A similar situation occurs with software investments. For MSO to fall off it’s perch one (or a combination) of two situations will need to occur.
    1) The pain of dealing with Microsoft and MSO will become too great, or
    2) An alternative will offer orders of magnitude benefits over the existing MSO offering.

    When MS did ‘dent’ file format compatibility in the past – in order to introduce functionality they claim customers were asking for – it was met with plenty of squawking. But at the end of the day few migrated from MSO. By the same token, it should now be easier to incorporated new application functionality without breaking file format compatability as it did with binary files.

    “we will look back on the freedoms we have now, and barely be able to believe what we get away with”
    Yup. For all the security measures and hoops I have to jump at most banks, I can still take work home with me on a 2gb memory stick. Years ago I used LapLink to connect my laptop to a corporate PC via the Parallel port.

    “almost impossible to email exes”
    If you password protect the zip file it will bypass most email security systems. Obviously supply the password in the email.

    “Anyone else read it”
    No, I’m currently going through “Options, Futures, and Other Derivatives” by John Hull.

  3. Harlan Grove Says:

    And if you can’t e-mail zips, uuencode or binhex encode them and send as plain text attachments.

  4. MikeC Says:

    No, but I’m now an avid reader of the blog. Fascinating stuff, especially some of the stuff on linguistics….!

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