Windows Vista – Orphan in the Sky
A popular theme of science fiction writers is a sort of high-tech cargo cult, in which ignorant descendants of an advanced culture live, dependent and uncomprehending, on the towering technical achievements of their forefathers. This idea turns up in everything from Heinlein (”Orphans of the Sky”) to Star Trek (
#38, “The Apple” #63, “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” — thanks to Eric for the correction).
There is historical precedent. Radiocarbon dating of the Egyptian pyramids yielded an archaeological surprise: the biggest and most advanced ones came first. Thereafter, they became progressively more primitive, as successive generations essentially made imperfect, poorly understood copies of the original.
One might argue the Enlightenment was similar: a new reasoning methodology fomented by Descartes, Galileo and Bacon triggered a blinding flash of collective insight, fading ever since, even as we discover ever more.
A more immediate example appears to be Windows Vista and, more generally, Microsoft product development. Here are some forgotten technologies of the Forefathers of Microsoft
Compatiblity engineering. This is the primary complaint about both Vista and AdCenter. These two products are arguably the top two strategic priorities for the company, so if both suffer the same failing, the problem is systemic to the company.
Sustained initiatives. Traditionally, companies feared Microsoft in part because it could sustain a strategic focus for years at a time, chipping away at a market until it took over. This characterized Excel in the 80s, Windows in the 90s, and XBox in the 00s. This seems less true today. What looks like sustained focus today is merely a group of insular departments just doing what they did last year, over and over again.
Speed. Say what you want about MSFT, but in the 80s and 90s, by and large, they wrote fast code. They were early commercial adopters of C/C++, they knew downcoding, they knew about designing data structures for speed, etc. It’s hard to see those strengths in the newer products. Adcenter is slow compared to lightning-quick alternatives (Google). Vista is slow compared to alternatives (Intel Macs). In both cases, no advantage is offered in return for this slowness.
The overall impression is that Microsoft is now a pilotless, decaying spaceship, carrying the childlike descendants of its brilliant forebears to a distant, forgotten destination.