The exclamation point in Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft is no error. You’ll undoubtedly add a few of your own when you finish the dramatic inside story of the creation of Windows NT by Wall Street Journal reporter G. Pascal Zachary.
Driven by the legendary Bruce Cutler, a picked band of software engineers sacrifices almost everything in their lives to build a new, stable, operating system aimed at giving Microsoft a platform for growth through the next decade of development in the computing business. Comparable in many ways to the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, Showstopper! gets deep inside the process of software development, the lives and motivations of coders and the pressure to succeed coupled with the drive for originality and perfection that can pull a diverse team together to create a program consisting of many hundreds of thousands of lines of code.
Released in mid-1993, Microsoft Corp.’s Windows NT software is arguably the best attempt yet at a universal operating system for personal computers, allowing PC users to open a file, move text or graphics, calculate a row of numbers and run several word processors, spreadsheets and other applications at once. With Windows NT (which stands for New Technology), Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates hopes to extend his dominion, with NT serving as the foundation for everything from desktop systems to corporate information networks. Critics, however, observe that the hardware required for NT is expensive and note that a forthcoming Microsoft operating system, Chicago, may eclipse NT. Wall Street Journal reporter Zachary tells how Microsoft wizard David Cutler and his team of programmers, working intensely for five years, overcame technical snafus, thousands of bugs, workplace skirmishes and collapsing personal lives to create Windows NT. This is both an enlightening primer on the management of complexity and a rare behind-the-scenes look at the cutthroat software wars.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I found this an absolutely riveting read. The book provides a view into a type of company and an approach to software development that is different from anyplace I’ve ever worked. Many things about it have stuck with me–the perspective on testing an operating system that will have to work with every popular software product; the staffing philosophy at Microsoft; the “eating your own dog food” concept (developers and testers had to actually use NT as they were developing it, thus constantly exposing themselves to its flaws). The author does a good job of telling the stories both of the big players and the worker drones. It’s a very personal book about what strikes me as a very impersonal company. It’s one of those rare non-technical books that I recommend to people who are new to software engineering. I read it for the first time when I’d just gotten my first software development job, and again several years later, and I didn’t enjoy it any less the second time around.
Kevin B. Cohen for Amazon