Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Under the hood of Microsoft applications

Several blog posts ("Ankh and AccessViolationExceptions", "Ankh and Exclude From Project", "Losing faith", and others) from Arild Fines, one of AnkhSVN authors, reminded me how peeking under the hood of Microsoft applications can be a horrific experience. Anyone who has ever tried to create a non-trivial plug-in for Office or Visual Studio can confirm this. You work with events that don't get fired or get fired at the wrong moment (like Document.BeforeSave, among many), undocumented features and bugs that will slow your brain to a crawl, let alone your development, and force you to use workarounds so ugly you'll end up hating yourself :). Of course, doing it in C# brings additional interop-related problems and you have to resort to reflection for many operations that would otherwise be straightforward. That is why I'm always suspicious of Visual Studio plug-ins, especially the ones that replace Visual Studio features that didn't work well in the first place, like source control. AnkhSVN is probably a case in point: these guys are struggling to get this thing working, but there's always a danger of triggering a ridiculous bug in the environment that will make a feature unusable. Of course, if AnkhSVN blows, people will blame AnkhSVN, not Visual Studio. It's a bit like the endless argument between Microsoft and device driver makers about whether unstable drivers caused Windows to fail or bad quality of Windows caused instability in drivers. It is sobering, though, once you see how much trash is hidden under the surface of Microsoft applications and how much effort was invested into hiding bugs rather than eliminating them.

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