Apple recently announced that it had to delay the release of the next version of Mac OS X, Leopard, by a few months — too many developers had to be tossed into the effort to get the new iPhone out the door by its June release. Commenting on the delay, Paul Kedrosky wrote, “Guess what? People apparently just rediscovered that writing software is hard.”
In researching Dreaming in Code, I spent years compiling examples of people making that rediscovery. I’m less obsessive about it these days, but stories like this one still cause a little alarm to ring in my brain. They tend to come in clumps: Recently, there was the Blackberry blackout, caused by a buggy software upgrade; or the Mars Global Surveyor, given up for lost in January, which, the LA Times recently reported, was doomed by a cascading failure started by a single bad command.
Kedrosky suggests the possibility of a Brooks’s Law-style problem on Apple’s hands, if the company has tried to speed up a late iPhone software schedule by redeploying legions of OS X developers onto the project. If that’s the case, then we’d likely see even further slippage from the iPhone project, which would then cause further delays for Leopard.
This is the sort of thing that always seemed to happen at Apple in the early and mid-’90s, and has rarely happened in Steve Jobs Era II. I write “rarely,” not “never,” because I recall this saga of “a Mythical Man Month disaster” on the Aperture team. If the tale is accurate, Apple threw 130 developers at a till-then-20-person team, with predictable painful results. We’ll maintain a Brooks’ Law Watch on Apple as the news continues to unfold.
UPDATE: Welcome, Daring Fireball and Reddit readers! And to respond to one consistent criticism: Sure, iPhone isn’t late yet, but Apple is explicitly saying it needed to add more developers to the project to meet its original deadline. If that all works out dandy, then the Brooks’s Law alarm will turn out to have been unwarranted. Most likely, given Apple’s discipline, the company will ship iPhone, with its software, when it says it will. What we won’t and can’t know is whether, and if so how much, the shipping product has been scaled back. And sure, of course this is all conjecture. Conjecture is what we have, given Apple’s locked-down secrecy.
[tags]apple, leopard, os x, software delays, brooks’s law[/tags]
There are no revisions for this post.