Over the weekend, I installed Windows 7 - only months behind the bleeding edge, but it’s still the New Windows, which carries a certain risk and inconvenience. I’ll get into that in another post. Right now, what the existence of Windows 7 means to me is this: there are only two OSes in the world. There’s NT, and there’s the *NIX family. Apple dropped its old OS, and its in-house next-generation OS never got off the ground. Be, Amiga, and OS/2 are all basically pushing up daisies, their user and developer communities enthusiastic but statistically insignificant. I learned this through Jeff Atwood’s post about David Cutler, a man I’m coming to admire. I think it’s entirely possible that Cutler - irascible, enigmatic, and visionary - is the real Microsoft counterpart to Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates. Gates and Jobs are both the faces of their computing domains, and have stepped into that role, but in terms of capital-V Vision, it seems to me that Cutler is at the very least the Wozniak to Gates' Jobs, if not the Jobs himself.
It also makes me think of the Be bug report, “BeOS missing megalomaniacal figurehead to harness and focus developer rage,” now a digital artifact available only through quotation, like Roman-era documents. I wonder how much a figure like Cutler or Jobs is necessary - and whether the community of developers produces these people, or simply provides a place in which their talents can be productive. Considering how many such people, in greater or lesser degree, the open-source community has produced, I think it’s entirely possible that there has to be a charismatic, polarizing figure just to get the social dynamics to line up properly to produce good software.
If that’s true, look around you. Can you spot that person at your software company? Do you need such a person - and if you do need one and you don’t have one, what can be done about that?