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Famous rewrites:

- Microsoft Word, "Project Pyramid". Never finished, the company decided it would take too long to rewrite + keep up with adding new features.

- Netscape 6. Practically killed the company. Dragged on for years.

- IE4. Turned out OK and made IE the leading browser.

- Ericsson AXE-N. Huge project to rewrite the succesful AXE phone system in an object oriented way. Failed miserably.

I'm sure you can think of a few more. I wonder what Microsoft did right with IE

Perl 5 was a complete rewrite of Perl 4. Great success.

Git was a rewrite of BitKeeper. Great success.

BIND 9 was a rewrite of BIND 8. Significant improvement.

In 2002 MediaWiki was created as a complete rewrite of the previous software that Wikipedia was running. Astounding success.

Mozilla is a famous rewrite disaster. I have my opinions on it, but this is not the place for that.

PHP 3 was a rewrite of PHP 2. I hate to say good things about PHP, but that rewrite has not been bad for PHP.

Project Xanadu went through a rewrite. This seems to have been a bad thing.

vBulletin only became popular after a version 2 rewrite.

Zope 3 is a rewrite of Zope 2. It does not seem to be a success.

I generated this list by taking the first two off of the top of my head, then I went to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rewrite_%28programming%29 and clicked through to the links to all of the listed projects. If a quick scan for "rewrite" followed by information about how good it was gave me an opinion, I added it to the list.

Other than the obvious effects of survivorship bias, this should be relatively unbiased. From this it doesn't seem that rewrites are necessarily a bad thing.

Incidentally in my personal experience I've been involved with a number of rewrites. Most succeeded. I've seen a number of other rewrites from a distance. Most failed. I consider this mostly luck.

> Git was a rewrite of BitKeeper.

Um, not exactly in the same sense as the article. I would say that Git was inspired by BitKeeper.

> Project Xanadu went through a rewrite.

I thought Xanadu was vaporware?

Judging from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Xanadu there is a possibility that, had they not chosen to rewrite their prototype, they might have released something years before they actually did.

I also have the sense that this project suffered a lot from the desire to try to be perfect, and hence failing to be good.

Windows NT - a complete rewrite of windows, and became the core of XP and windows server. This was a major success, IMO, NT/XP was far, far more stable than the 3.1/95 family.

It also took Microsoft almost 10 years and millions of man hours to get NT to a stable state, iron out comaptibility and performance issues before they eventually replaced 95 with XP. It was a huge undertaking - probably not something a startup can afford. IIRC Microsoft had a completely separate team working on Win NT initially, lead by David Cutler.

edit: fixed 'not something a startup can't afford' -> 'not something a startup can afford'

> IIRC Microsoft had a completely separate team working on Win NT initially, lead by David Cutler.

If you're interested in this, I highly suggest you read "Show Stopper!". It provides some interesting insights into Microsoft's early days with NT.


... and I still can't wait for asynchronous I/O events on both a socket and the console...

Hmm, that's interesting. I was about to say that NT wasn't a rewrite but it was a completely different operating system designed from scratch, well I guess a little of the design came from VMS:)

I see your point on how you consider this to be a rewrite.

I guess the question I have is, what's the difference between a brand new product, and a rewrite? Up until now I considered windows NT to be a brand new product.

AutoCad was rewritten to be object oriented in the early 1990's. The first rewritten version Release 13.0 [1994] was such a flea ridden dog that many customers skipped it. But Release 14 in 1997 was a marvel, and Autodesk has had success since and been able to extend the product into new areas due to the object oriented architecture.

Foursquare went through a rewrite but I guess that was pretty early once the team had got a proof point that there were people out there who would use the app.


The rewrite of Netscape's code actually turned into Firefox, which was fairly successful by any metric.

Sometimes rewrites are necessary, but they have to be driven from necessity, not simply from the desire to "start fresh".

Not quite. There was the rewrite that killed the company, and then there was another rewrite, which turned into Firefox.

There was no rewrite that killed the company. There was an attempted rewrite that went nowhere, but the company was killed by IE4 being good enough and free.

Was it successful for Netscape the company, or for the eventual users (MANY years later) of Firefox? I agree with you on the latter, but the decision makers at Netscape need[ed] to be concerned about the former.

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