Showstopper – Book Review

I first heard about this book on a programming-related podcast, where the host recommended it enthusiastically and sparked my interest. The book recounts the course of the Windows NT project from the very beginning in the late 80s to the glorious day of release in July 1993. It was (and probably still is) one of the largest and most ambitious software projects undertaken at Microsoft.

The focus of the narrative is on the people working on the project, with technology and business matters in the background. The making of NT is presented as an extremely challenging and demanding endeavor, requiring great commitment from those involved in it, especially the people who shaped the product and the development process.

Some of the heroes of the story are placed in the spotlight and the reader gets to know more about them than just what their job on the project was. Dave Cutler, the lead developer, gets the most attention, which is justified by his role and the effect that he had on other programmers (at one point they built him an altar). A lot is told about how new people joined the project, how teams were formed, how conflicts arose and got resolved, and how being immersed in the stressful work environment affected the personal lives of the participants and their families.

While the book does touch on many technical topics, it presents them on a rather high level and rarely dives into the nitty-gritty details (a code fragment is only shown once or twice throughout the text). A basic understanding of how computers and operating systems work should be sufficient to follow the story.

At all times, it’s apparent that the author took great care to present the story comprehensively and accurately. Many excerpts from messages and memos exchanged between project members are included, and an impressive number of people have been interviewed for the book – their names are collected in a list after the epilogue. The author did his research, no doubt about it.

I found “Showstopper” a very good, amusing read and I recommend it to anyone interested in software projects (especially large-scale ones), or technology in general.

Leave a Reply