A complaint about Microsoft's poor documentation

It starts with a difference between how engineers and business executives see the world

Dear Bob ...

This week's Keep the Joint Running ("Microsoft, operating systems, and organizational architectures," 8/11/2008) triggered this thought:

The dislike of the MS company is because of their products are released ahead of time before are functionally bug free.

Every other software/OS development company is in the same boat, but bashing MS takes precedence. My disagreement with MS is in its roots since its inception as a company and their mental framework that was introduced which changed the world of computing. Their novel introduction of global practices and quick-to-do approach made life easier for all but under the guise of these opportunities lurks trouble.

You have introduced the news of MS XML adherence as the new feature Steve has released. This feature wrecks exorbitant havoc in the data realm because it perpetuates the lack of documenting data properties.

The crux of all ills is the historical lack of documentation computer systems have had since computers became the daily staple. But in today's IT world, even the teaching institutions do not emphasize this practice of documenting or defining the innate properties of data, after all, what computers are for?

The ball will continue its down-hill roll exponentially, increasing in its destroying path. Business IT can not stop to correct this wrong and the developing companies will continuously invent and re-invent quick-to-market solutions that only benefit them.

- Microsoft Disliker

Dear MS Disliker ...

No argument, it would be great if Microsoft were to release full and accurate documentation for Open XML. It would also be great if Russia pulled back its tanks from Georgia; China decided pollution is a bad idea after all and so is political repression; and fundamentalists of all stripes decided religious tolerance really does have its advantages.

You said, "... the developing companies will continuously invent and re-invent quick-to-market solutions that only benefit them," as the source of the trouble. But this is what companies do -- they take actions that are in the interests of themselves and their shareholders. That's the whole point, in fact.

As a generality: Engineers tend to look at the world in terms of design elegance -- what works well. Since collaboration generally works better than antagonism (it's a vector thing), engineers tend to look at acts of pure self-interest as puzzling irritants.

This is a constant source of friction between engineers and business executives, who (if they're good at what they do, at least) see the world as a multi-player chess game that they're trying to win.

There's a big difference between building and winning. Since engineers usually work for business executives, we have to find ways to help them win that let us get on with building things.

And that's the core complaint against Microsoft -- while it probably doesn't get enough credit for what its engineers have accomplished, it's been about winning more than it's been about building.

- Bob

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