My first book of 2009 was a crusty old out-of-print classic I'd given up on finding a copy of years ago, but I found it under the X-mas tree last month courtesy of my awesome girlfriend. The book was, of course, Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft.
I'm no fan of Microsoft, but I'm a sucker for software development stories, no matter how embellished. From the definitive The Soul of a New Machine to the almost farcical Microserfs and everything in between like The Autodesk File and Dreaming in Code and I could list another dozen from my reading list of the last decade but I'll save that for another time and another post. Essentially, I love reading about how other people suffered through pushing a product to market, because I've lived it myself a few times now, and I suspect I'll do a few more tours of duty before my retirement.
Show Stopper! makes a for a good leisurely read, but unfortunately it's far more focused on the people and their relationships rather than the technological and political hurdles they had to overcome. In other words, it's more fluff, less stuff. The book slowly and methodically introduces core people on the Windows NT team, giving their back story, explaining their motivations, touching on their personal lives outside of the office, etc. Technology and politics are covered, but not in great detail, and in some cases so abstractly as to insult a reader that hungers for the nitty gritty specifics.
Without spoiling the plot too much, a complex new operating system is conceived, an all-star team is assembled to produce it, deadlines are missed by years, tempers flare, nerves are shot, power plays are made, and in the end if ships. Of course, you knew how it ends. It saddens me think some of you readers are young enough to not have even used Windows NT. Sometimes working with the old clunky stuff gives you a much better appreciation for what you have today. Perhaps I'd not be such a fanatical OS X pundit today if I'd not had to launch a product or two on top of Windows NT.
So in summary, Show Stopper! is worth a read. It's not in my top five of historical dramatizations of big software development launches, but maybe it's in the top ten. Find yourself a copy while you still can.