Fantastic look back on the build up, internally at Microsoft, towards the release of Windows Vista by Terry Crowley:
Vista was planned for and built for hardware that did not exist. This was bad for desktops, worse for laptops and disastrous for mobile.
Vista was shipping into an environment where the shift to mobility was gaining more and more speed. Revenue totals for laptops passed desktops in 2003; by 2005 laptops also passed desktops in total units sold. Because Vista ran so poorly on newer cheap laptops (“netbooks”), Microsoft was forced to let OEMs continue selling Windows XP for those lower end machines.
Sometimes, it’s a simple as that (in hindsight, at least). But a few more fun anecdotes:
As the core team came off the security effort and the 64-bit Windows product, they re-evaluated the status of the overall Longhorn project. The teams had written a massive amount of code. Unfortunately, when you are building a complex system and running without clear constraints and delivery deadlines, the right mental image for a team that is generating lots of code is not one that is building a railroad and is now 90% across the country. A better image is one where you have dug an incredibly deep hole that you now have to figure out how to climb out of and fill back in.
As iOS was opened up to third-party applications, the striking thing was just how carefully the OS controlled application behavior in order to preserve overall device performance. From the standards and review process enforced through the curated Apple store, to careful application sandboxing, to the initial limitation to a single task and no background processing, to tight constraints on application responsiveness, to low-power hardware-assisted audio and video processing as well as a host of other behaviors all focused on managing precious power use, many iOS innovations were fundamentally focused on the core OS function of managing and carefully exposing hardware resources to applications.
The contrast with the Windows team perspective as the Vista project started could not be more stark. The role of hardware innovation was to enable new software innovation rather than the role of software being to expose hardware innovation.
Remember how much grief Apple got at the launch of iOS (then iPhone OS) for how tightly controlled it was? As it turns out, huge strength that allowed it to flourish in those early days.
As for what happened with Internet Explorer (IE):
Also catastrophically, the bet on Avalon had been paired with a major disinvestment in IE. The IE team was gutted to staff Avalon and IE was left on life support struggling to address the torrent of security issues cascading in. The vision was that HTML would be a legacy technology and the kinds of applications our competitors were targeting for the browser and HTML would be built on top of the new Avalon infrastructure.
This was a huge strategic mistake and opened up a gap for the rise of Firefox and then the Chrome browser from Google. Whether continued investment in IE would have prevented that is impossible to tell, but it certainly did not help. It also hamstrung the IE team and left them unprepared and unstaffed to address the continuing rapid evolution of web technologies which degraded IE’s reputation with web developers. The fact that it was a mistake was apparent across the company immediately; there was no need for twenty-twenty hindsight. Office and other parts of the company had large investments in the web and HTML. There was no plausible path where those investments would move over to Avalon, much less expecting the entire industry to move. In fact there was never even an attempt by the Avalon team to describe a plausible path — something magical would happen and suddenly everyone would be building Avalon apps instead of on HTML. It was absurd as well as being unconscionable. Immediately after we “won” the browser wars and saw Netscape absorbed by AOL, we radically cut further development in these open standard technologies. It was not until Windows 7 that we re-staffed the IE team and restarted aggressive investment in IE and standard web technologies.
As someone who was a web developer at the time, the fact that Microsoft just decided to basically stop all progress on IE after IE 6 was beyond dumbfounding. So yes, they only have themselves to blame for the rise of first Firefox and then Chrome (and Safari).
Love this bit about tablet computers:
We do not see this only in desktop (including laptop) computing. The tablet probably blasted to form factor sufficiency faster than any broad consumer computing device we have ever seen. Actually, a broader perspective would say that is untrue. We were struggling with weight, battery life, processing capability, input modes and overall responsiveness in different incarnations of the tablet for decades. But when the iPad arrived on the scene with its combination of screen size, weight, battery life, touch input, processing power and instant-on we had turned through an inflection point of sufficiency. Changes since then have been merely incremental — which drives crazy the engineers working on these things and expending great energy and creativity to have it described this way. The engineers at Maytag working on the next iteration of the washing machine probably feel the same way.
Lastly, this lesson learned from the Vista debacle is just a great thought for all parts of life:
The second is one that I took greatly to heart in my subsequent career. If you want to do broad ambitious things, you need to be accountable to articulate why it is the right thing to do. You need to be able to write down your basic thesis and the evidence behind it and then defend it. In fact, the more power you hold, the more accountable you need to be to open yourself to honest challenge on either facts or logic.