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For *nix, I found that Eric Raymond's The Art Of Unix Programming expressed the ideas behind the Unix philosophy pretty well. The whole book is online, I recommend this chapter to see what I am talking about. It basically lays out the unifying concepts behind Unix operating systems and their applications. For Example:

  • Rule of Modularity: Write simple parts connected by clean interfaces.
  • Rule of Transparency: Design for visibility to make inspection and debugging easier.

He then goes in how these rules are applied.

What makes up the Windows Philosophy?
I have never really understood the philosophy behind Windows operating systems, and have never really known anyone who knows enough to answer the question. Googling this for me just brings up a bunch of rants. Is there an equivalent book or set of articles to The Art Of Unix Programming, but for Windows operating systems?

I would also be interested if someone thinks they have a good answer, but that might be just too long a post.

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Wasn't sure if I should CW this, upvote this comment maybe 5 or times and I will. – Kyle Brandt Aug 20 '09 at 14:04
There is also a similar document from MAC about there interfaces, "Apple Human Interface Guidelines"… – Kyle Brandt Aug 20 '09 at 14:08

Have a look at MSDN's channel9. There you get incredibly much insite into what Microsofts engineers intended / reasoned about a certain prouct or feature.

For Windows: My absolute favorite is Dave Probert's video blog about the windows kernel (with some remarks about the differences to Unix): .... and the other part 2-4 .... (you might also like to look at the other "Going Deep" videos :-).

Have fun.

HTH, Thomas

PS: Aditionally you find very much information in the books "Inside Windows NT", the first part edition wasquite remarkable for understanding WIndows NT's inner workings.

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That video looks like the sort of thing I am trying to find. – Kyle Brandt Aug 20 '09 at 14:19
It's interesting that a reference to Unix philosophy is text, but for Windows philosophy we have to check a video blog. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Oct 14 '09 at 14:47

Unix, from the "pipe" upwards, is designed around processes communicating in plain text protocols. Hence the design of various internet protocols - SMTP, HTTP, IMAP, POP, etc are all human-readable. So developers have to write protocol writing and parsing code, but it's often straightforward to interoperate with programs you don't control.

Windows by contrast is built around the procedure call / method invocation. COM and successors provide ways to extend procedure calls into DLLs, across threads of a process, across processes, and across the network. All this is fairly transparent, especially in object-orientated languages. This makes it easier to write very large, networked applications - so long as you control all the components. It makes it harder to swap out part of the complex interlinked system for a new piece of code. For example, the Microsoft Word file format is very strange as a file format, but straightforward as a representation of the objects in memory used by Word. The Exchange wire protocol is MAPI-over-DCOM: from the point of view of the Outlook developers, all they need to do is get a mailbox object and call methods on it, whereas people attempting to implement alternative clients and servers see a wire protocol that isn't easy to interoperate with.

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Raymond Chen's blog ( is a fantastic source for this kind of info, as well as providing down 'n' dirty details on why certain things are the way they are in Windows (example: why do you have to click on Start to shut down? Because during testing when users were asked to shut down their PCs, that was where they clicked).

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I think you can get a decent feel for the difference in the systems by looking at the Windows start menu and comparing that with a KDE or Gnome start menu. The *NIX menus are organized by task or category, while the Windows menus are organized by software company. That says a lot about the differences in priorities of the creators right there.

(Yes, yes, KDE/Gnome are not "UNIX philosophy," but it is still a striking difference.)

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That's not really true of a new Windows installation, more the way that Microsoft doesn't control application software in the way that Linux distributions do. – pjc50 Oct 14 '09 at 14:28

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