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Reading this book, pretty much in one go, felt like a mix of "Pirates of Silicon Valley" and "Inside Windows". There is enough technical content to prevent this book from being shallow (although the distinction between "code writers" and "testers" is ultimately wrong because testers in MS are not people who aimlessly click around, but write elaborate test suites instead - this is mentioned in the book but is not very clear), but the real value is in the personal angle. Author describes the life of NT project through people's stories about the development of the product - direction changes, added features, bug fixing marathons - and the big personal toll it takes on their lives. As a former MS employee, many situations feel familiar to me, however, many things are different now. Teams are bigger, stock options are gone and the culture has changed dramatically towards Dilbert-style, however, there are still teams with great leaders who can rally people to deliver great products. Finally, use of real people's stories and especially their conflicts to describe the process of building complex software is very valuable to anyone who follows MS since many of the young eager people who worked on NT went on to become big shots at MS - from Bob Muglia to Dave Treadwell. Also, this book finally explained to me why Dave Cutler's red jaguar was parked at the spot closest to the entrance of the building.
This book was originally written in 1994 and reissued in 2008 with a new "Afterward" that provides a bit of the story after NT shipped. That new afterward mostly chides Microsoft for coming late to Internet and mobile software without mentioning the fact that Windows NT went on to become the underpinning of all of Microsoft's OS projects with Win2k.
As for the rest of the book, there are shortcomings in both the prose and the production. In terms of the prose-- it's simply hard to sum up a 5 year project in a book of this size, particularly if your goal is to cover the project from the perspective of multiple participants. The book never dives very deep and its characters are mostly reduced to cardboard cutouts who replay their roles chapter after chapter. Having said that, this is one of the very few books about Microsoft that includes significant participation on the part of the actual people involved, so it's worth a read on that front.
In terms of the production-- the 2008 reissue of this book is rife with blatant typos (one or more per page) and formatting problems. My guess is that the original manuscript was lost and the new book was generated by optical character recognition of a printed copy of the original book. For whatever reason, the new printing itself is problematic-- rather than the smooth fonts normally seen on all modern printed pages, the dots making up each of the printed characters is visible, as if this new version were printed on a dot matrix printer from the book's original era. The printing issues are surprisingly distracting.
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This was an enjoyable book. The author struck a nice balance regarding the technical details versus general interest. I just wanted to mention the intolerable amount of typos in the Kindle edition. One programmer's name changed from Horne to Home, and back and forth at least a half dozen times in as many pages. Does the print version suffer this badly from typos?
Showstopper! tells the tale of how a group of engineers at Microsoft worked their tails (and relationships) off to build NT, including even before it was to be Windows NT. Grueling hours were used to fix never-ending bugs and deal with ever-changing scope. This book wants to be a software story equivalent to Tracy Kidder's "Soul of a New Machine" hardware story, but fails due to a lack of technical details, poor organization, and general lack of editing.
While the story is very interesting, the reading experience is marred by what appears to be the lack of even basic editing; as though the author submitted a rough draft to the publisher who printed off copies without even a cursory copy-editing review. Missing quotation marks, missing or extraneous line breaks, printed carriage-return characters, poor print quality, and duplication of material in various chapters make reading the book like hitting a speedbump at 50 miles an hour.
Essential reading for the geek minded. One of the best books written about Microsoft. Really well written and detailed about how an OS was created from the ground up and given a face called Windows NT.
I was disturbed by the updated authors comments at the end. He seems to have jumped ship and taken sides against MS at the end. Even though MS lost its way for a bit, it is WAY back in the game. A basic reality lost on the authors comments at the end. Pity, and sad, and shows what is really going on in the tech press today, and how the press in general can and will go out of it's way to shape the opinions of people that don't necessarily have good information to go on.
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I first heard about this book on a programming-related podcast, where the host recommended it enthusiastically and sparked my interest. The book recounts the course of the Windows NT project from the very beginning in the late 80s to the glorious day of release in July 1993. It was (and probably still is) one of the largest and most ambitious software projects undertaken at Microsoft.
The focus of the narrative is on the people working on the project, with technology and business matters in the background. The making of NT is presented as an extremely challenging and demanding endeavor, requiring great commitment from those involved in it, especially the people who shaped the product and the development process.
Some of the heroes of the story are placed in the spotlight and the reader gets to know more about them than just what their job on the project was. Dave Cutler, the lead developer, gets the most attention, which is justified by his role and the effect that he had on other programmers (at one point they built him an altar). A lot is told about how new people joined the project, how teams were formed, how conflicts arose and got resolved, and how being immersed in the stressful work environment affected the personal lives of the participants and their families.
While the book does touch on many technical topics, it presents them on a rather high level and rarely dives into the nitty-gritty details (a code fragment is only shown once or twice throughout the text). A basic understanding of how computers and operating systems work should be sufficient to follow the story.
At all times, it's apparent that the author took great care to present the story comprehensively and accurately.Read more ›
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