Craftsmanship

There is just no substitute for the good, comforting feeling that comes from using a reliable product.
When you close the door of a quality automobile, it makes a solid whumpf! sound. When you start the engine, it powers up smoothly. When taking a curve, it does not shudder but smoothly adjusts to the sideways stress. There is nothing like riding in a machine that you know has a margin of safety in its design parameters and its craftsmanship.

In the field of control theory, we call a product with an extra margin of safety and stability a robust system. This term implies that the system continues to function despite being exposed to harsh treatment, to stimulus outside of its normal design parameters. In automotive terms, it means that a summer drive through the harsh desert is not an invitation to disaster; it's just "another day at the office" for a robust piece of driving machinery.

Similarly, there is an element of robustness to a well-designed piece of software. OS/2 Warp operates reliably under a wide variety of software environments -- it acts as a subsystem for Java, native OS/2, DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows95 (via Odin), and even some Linux applications (via Xfree86). No other operating system in the world can act as a "substrate" or foundation for such disparate software modules. When an OS/2 application is closed down, there is a snappy immediacy to it -- it does not linger on the screen in pieces, desperately attempting to clear out clogged pathways the way Windows platforms tend to run.

In the realm of hardware variations, OS/2 similarly shows a robustness that allows it to run on a wide variety of hardware. There are still 386 and 486 PCs successfully running OS/2, and outperforming expensive, bloated Windows machines on the same networks. People who run OS/2 get more "bang for the buck" and longer life from their hardware than people who suffer the indignities of the Windows "upgrade" treadmill. I have seen OS/2 machines run successfully after being submerged in floodwaters and then air-dried; I have seen them crank out fax after fax despite operating with the power supply fan frozen in place; I have heard of them operating on networks while the neighboring Windows machines on the same networks were taken down by viruses or erroneous network messages.

Speaking of viruses, it may be useful to understand the structure of natural, organic viruses to see why robustness is not a feature of Microsoft products. Scientists who study the AIDS virus have found that it has a very "sloppy" and unstable structure. As a result, it is extremely difficult to "piggyback" on the virus or to build an attacking anti-virus. This means that the AIDS virus can spread, but its many mutations and instabilities make it a poor host for other life-forms. It mutates rapidly, changing its "interface" to the outside world.

Guess what -- Windows is just like that.

Microsoft changes the software design APIs in subtle ways every few years, so that older versions of Windows products do not always run reliably on more recent versions of Windows. I suppose they think they are doing software vendors a "favor" by force-feeding new software versions onto consumers, since all new computers will be force-feeding pathways for the most recent "mutation" of Windows. Meanwhile, rival software coders who wish to establish a "colony" on top of the Windows "host" environment may find that without insider clues from Microsoft (given as favors for not developing on MS-free operating platforms), the application software may fail to communicate correctly with Windows. This contributes to the nasty reputation of Windows environments for poor reliability, and allows Microsoft cronies to point the finger at the software developers who were unfortunate enough to not get the right inside info in time.

But as a monopolist, Microsoft has no incentive to provide a reliable, consistent platform to the world. Indeed, it has incentive not to. Constant change masquerading as "progress" or "innovation" means that Java and Netscape and any other environment cannot be certain to have a stable foundation for building platform-independent applications that also run on the latest version of Windows, because the latest version of Windows may have "evolved" (or more precisely, been intentionally rigged) so that things are no longer where the programs expect them to be. This means that rival software developers cannot count on a five-year or ten-year cycle of consistent APIs to interface to, and therefore cannot mature into self-sustaining, profitable organizations.

In other words, intentional instability and intentionally "shifting sands" of the Windows foundation are used to keep software developers dependent on Microsoft for constantly-changing specifications. The term "ISV" or Independent Software Developer is a complete misnomer. These people are no more independent of Microsoft than an apartment dweller is independent of his/her landlord. If the landlord decides to change the terms of the next year's lease, the tenant must either pay the piper or find a new pad. With Windows controlling 95% of the PC preloads, there is precious little real estate for the jilted developer to migrate to.

OS/2 applications (particularly mature ones) tend to be rock-solid, because they are not playing a constant game of catch-up with ever-changing underpinnings. Stable and predictable APIs are a hallmark of stable, reliable platforms. This is normal and natural. Would civil engineers produce solid bridges with the law of gravity being revised every two or three years? Would electrical engineers produce reliable radio circuits with Maxwell's Equations getting shuffled on a whim?

The biggest problem with the Department of Justice's prosecution of Microsoft is that it fails to perceive that software interfaces are fungible, not static. Microsoft can play "Simon Says" with each generation of Windows, or even with point "upgrades" using the Internet to distribute changes. With the drive to provide increased security, Microsoft issues patches almost weekly. Who knows which APIs are affected by these patches? Does the DOJ expect to set up an observation team to examine each patch to ensure it is not targeting a rival developer's products??

The only enforcement that is certain to work is to bypass the APIs competely and get to the real foundation of Windows: the BOOT SECTOR. The cold, hard truth is this: the collective boot sectors of all the world's PCs make up the most expensive piece of real estate on Earth. They are the Boardwalk and the Park Place of Microsoft's monopoly. Until legal mandates evict Microsoft from the boot sector of PC preloads, Microsoft will be able to dictate the direction of all software development. And quality and reliability are not on the agenda.

Tom Nadeau

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