The Old New Thing: Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows

Author: Raymond Chen
Publisher: Addison Wesley,2007
Pages: 560
ISBN: 978-0321440303
Aimed at: Those with an interest in Windows
Rating: 3.5
Pros: Insights into Windows and Microsoft
Cons: Disorganised and chaotic treatment
Reviewed by: Mike James

Raymond Chen has been working with Windows since the days of MS-DOS and he knows a great deal about its history and how it works. He has attempted to capture some of his pearls of wisdom in “The Old New Thing” and as the title suggests it’s a sort of history that explains why thing are as they are. The big problem is that Chen’s bits of information are exceptionally bitty and they range from pithy advice about how to design a user interface to exceptionally deep and technical. In fact many of the topics are only likely to be understood by a C or C++ programmer who practiced the art of Windows programming back in the “old days” that most of Chen’s reminiscences stem from. How does this help with the “new thing”? If you program using .NET and have no idea how Windows works “under the hood” then you are going to wonder what this is all about. You need to understand how Windows uses messages, about a lot of API calls, how dialog boxes work, about old and new Windows memory management and more to get anything much other than the trivial but often amusing anecdotes. However, the very same anecdotes provide a unique insight into the workings of Microsoft and demonstrate what many of us have until now only guessed at – Windows is a mess of compromises and unpleasant code implemented just to keep things working. A fun read but far from essential or even useful.