Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Bill Gates and Code Complete

By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard of, if not already seen, the new Windows Vista advertisements featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. They haven’t been well received, to put it mildly, but the latest commercial is actually not bad in its longer 4 minute version:

On the whole, I’d call these ads opaque bordering on inane. Rumor has it the entire thing has been cancelled. It wasn’t entirely unsuccessful, I suppose; the goal of advertising is to get people talking about it. Even if every one of those conversations starts with "what the hell were they thinking ", hey -- it’s a conversation. About an ad. The ad agencies have won.

I guess Microsoft figured it had to do something to counter the long running "I’m a Mac, I’m a PC " ads from Apple. I secretly love these ads, because the hidden subtext is that if you use a PC, you’re as cool as John Hodgman:

My problem with these ads begins with the casting. As the Mac character, Justin Long (who was in the forgettable movie Dodgeball and the forgettabler TV show Ed) is just the sort of unshaven, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster we’ve always imagined when picturing a Mac enthusiast. He’s perfect. Too perfect. It’s like Apple is parodying its own image while also cementing it. If the idea was to reach out to new types of consumers (the kind who aren’t already evangelizing for Macs), they ought to have used a different type of actor.

Meanwhile, the PC is played by John Hodgman -- contributor to The Daily Show and This American Life, host of an amusing lecture series, and all-around dry-wit extraordinaire. Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident. (Look at that hilariously perfect pratfall he pulls off in the spot titled "Viruses. ") The ads pose a seemingly obvious question -- would you rather be the laid-back young dude or the portly old dweeb? -- but I found myself consistently giving the "wrong " answer: I’d much sooner associate myself with Hodgman than with Long.

The sleight of hand breaks down a bit when you realize that Hodgman actually uses Macs, but that’s advertising for you: a giant pack of lies. In other breaking news, water still wet, sky still blue.

The reason I bring this up is not to fan the eternal flame of platform wars, but to highlight one interesting little detail in the ad. At about 1:05, you’ll see Gates reading a bedtime story to the family’s son from some obscure technical tome or other. But not just any technical tome -- he’s reading from the book that this very blog is named after, my all-time favorite programming book, Steve McConnell’s Code Complete.

You can use [the table driven method] approach in any object-oriented language. It’s less error-prone, more maintainable and more efficient than lengthy if statements, case statements or copious subclasses. The fact that a design uses inheritance and polymorphism doesn’t make it a good design. The rote object-oriented design described earlier in the "Object-Oriented Approach " section would require as much code as a rote functional design -- or more.

The above is excerpted from Chapter 18 of "Table-Driven Methods ", on page 423. You might argue that I have an unhealthy fascination with Steve McConnell and Code Complete. You wouldn’t be wrong.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I doubt it’s a coincidence that Gates chose that particular book; I’m sure it’s one of his all time favorite books, too.

Hat tip to Matthew Eckstein for pointing this one out!

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: