It was announced today that Microsoft was facing a software crisis: their short sighted engineers only allocated space for a two digit total for the number of months late that Windows Vista will slip, and it is now feared that when they finally do ship Vista 119 months late, it will cause...
Okay, okay, it's not quite that bad yet, but it's just about that bad. Today Microsoft announced that they won't begin retail shipments of Windows Vista until January 2007. Microsoft began talking about Longhorn, Vista's predecessor back in 2001, even before Windows XP was out, and they were predicting a shipment for it late in 2003. In August 2004, Microsoft had to admit that they were basically screwed, and had to start over again, dropping many important features that they had touted like their new WinFS. And it keeps slipping, and slipping, and slipping...
According to the WSJ, Steve Sinofsky, senior VP of Office at Microsoft will be taking over for Jim Allchin, who currently is the copresident of the Platfrom Products and Services devision. Nothing like seeing a change in leadership right at a critical juncture in product development.
Microsoft has deep pockets, and will likely weather this storm fairly well. The guys who are going to take it on the chin are guys like Dell and HP who will have a lean Christmas as people delay their PC purchases until after the holidays.
Iâ€™ve learned that dates in the software industry are likely to slip and Iâ€™m glad that our management is still paying more attention to product quality and customer and partner feedback than trying to meet some date. Yes, itâ€™s painful. Yes, itâ€™s embarrassing. But we have been through product slips before (before I was a Microsoft employee I was a beta tester on Windows 2000 which slipped years after the first test CDs arrived) and Iâ€™d rather have a slipped date than a cruddy product.
It is true: delays in shipping software are rampant in the industry, but that's really just an excuse. Good companies ship software on time. Good companies get software into the hands of customers who want to pay for it as often as they possibly can. Apple doesn't talk up their new releases of their software: they just release them. Adobe doesn't chat up their releases: they just release them. When Vista finally does ship, it will be years late, without many of the innovations that were originally planned.
And the closing sentence of Scoble's post implies that either we'd get a cruddy product, or we'd get it late. I suspect we are going to get both. As I have mentioned before, Vista seems to be more about placating various current and potential Microsoft partners than delivering compelling, enabling technology to the consumer. My years in software have taught me one thing: if it isn't stable as it goes along, it isn't going to be stable when it ships. You simply can't add quality at the end of the production cycle.
But there are some bright sides:
- You are probably smiling a bit if you are holding Apple stock.
- The resulting catastrophe will likely give us this generation's version of The Mythical Man Month, documenting the failure of large software for the new millenia, and educating a new generation of software people about hhow everything always goes wrong in software.
- Microsoft will be given the chance to sell even more Xbox 360s this Christmas, losing money on every one.
- Since you won't be upgrading your PC, you'll have more money for a PS3 for Christmas, or a PSP, or a Nintendo Revolution.
Addendum: Check out Daniel Lyon's Forbes article. A couple of telling quotes:
Meanwhile, 500 tech buyers sat there in the dark, their eyes glazing over from the sheer mind-numbing pointlessness of most of this stuff. The audience laughed out loud when the Microsoft guy showed off a kludgey system that lets you fetch Outlook e-mail messages using voice commands from a cell phone.
For God's sake, can you imagine how absolutely soul crushing it must be for the poor software engineer tasked to create such a useless, pointless demonstration?
If you are in charge of PR, should you continue to have a job after Lyons' writes this summary of their event?
Worse yet was the grumbling afterward in the press room. Why the hell did they drag us here? we wondered. We'd been promised big news and some earth-shattering announcements by Microsoft flacks who insisted this was something we shouldn't miss. Instead, we got a demo that was about as compelling as a root canal followed by a 15-minute press conference with Ballmer, the Microsoft chief executive who seems incapable of speaking at any level softer than a bellow. Ballmer took a few potshots at IBM, claiming the computer giant doesn't innovate anymore.
Read the rest. It's quite good.