Microsoft, security, backward compatibility and engineering

Joel Spolsky’s “How Microsoft Lost the API Wars” (linked below, too) ties in really well with Calvin Hsia’s post on “Solving a customer problem
– to steal Calvin’s punchline, the Microsoft XP security push breaks
the backward compatibility of COM within Microsoft’s own Visual FoxPro
software. Calvin’s pragmatic troubleshooting stories and tangents into
Win98 and pianos are fun reading, especially for those of us who know

Joel concludes that the solution is to code your applications for the
web and not for one API of one window manager or GUI on one operating
system. Coincidentally (or is it?), that seems to be Jon Udell’s theory
in his InfoWorld column talking about efforts by BEA and Macromedia to do something with XML and browsers. Which ties in pretty well with the Mozilla XUL effort,
which seems to be creating a browser-based GUI using RDF XML. Great
minds really do think alike, and it seems that the industry is
exploring similar next-generation solutions. And, speaking of Mozilla,
Ars Technica interviews Scott Collins, who provides some interesting insights into Netscape/Mozilla then and now.

Meanwhile, my email chimes with the latest issue of Woody’s Windows Watch
(7.08, not yet in the archives), where he talks about the Window XP
Service Pack 2 (which isn’t a Service Pack, in my opinion, but XP
Reloaded), and says:

“Service Pack 2, more than any of its predecessors, is a seriously
risky patch job. That’s because Microsoft’s almost exclusive focus in
SP2 is security. Security first. Ahead of backwards compatibility.”

Security is a good thing. I like to feel secure. I like to feel secure
that my computer will work tomorrow like it did today. Perhaps I
misunderstand what Microsoft means by “security.”

Backward compatibility is not just a Good Thing. I’m scrambling to help some
clients who’ve discovered that DOS machines can’t access files stored
on their new Windows Server 2003 file server. I’m supporting
applications written, re-written and refined over 10 and 15 years.
Backward compatibility is not just a feature, it’s a requirement.

Ghandi was once asked what he thought of western civilization and he
replied, “I think it would be a very good idea.” I feel the same way
about software engineering. Security, compatibility and future
directions are not and cannot be mutually exclusive. All must advance,


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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.