Reviewed: Renegades of the Empire

This is my kind of book: Renegades of the Empire, by Michael Drummond, charts the fables and fortunes of the three "renegade Beastie Boys" who secretly created and championed DirectX until it became a key technology in Windows. These three software developers were also responsible for Chrome (nee Chromeeffects), the ill-fated "Web browser on steroids" that would have brought stereo 3D effects to the Web had not internal politics finally brought the project, and the renegades, to their knees. It's an amazing story of insider intrigue, well told.

The story begins with the three renegades, Alex St. John, Eric Engstrom, and Craig Eisler, who starting scheming to change the world in pre-work weight lifting sessions. Sensing a need in the upcoming Windows 95 "Chicago" platform that Microsoft itself failed to acknowledge, the three set out to do the impossible: Bring multimedia and 3D gaming to Windows and finally kill the reliance on DOS. By the time they were done, DirectX, as the technology came to be called, wasn't just a smash hit; it was core Windows technology and the basis for hundreds of hit games.

With their careers foundering because of internal politics, the three then set out to step on more toes, this time in the IE team, by creating the uber browser, Chrome, which would bring DirectX-like capabilities to the Web. And unlike IE, Chrome wouldn't be free, but require the highest-end computers on the planet. Multiple reorgs later, their baby was quietly killed, as its technology was spread into various parts of the Microsoft Empire. And at least one of the Beastie Boys--St. John--had been fired from the company for his transgressions. By the time the book went to print, the other two had left the company as well.

Unlike many insider titles, Renegades of the Empire doesn't try to spastically cover a decade's worth of events inside of Microsoft. Instead, we are treated to a realistic look at the development of two products at the software giant during one of the most turbulent periods in its history. Management foul-ups, indecision, warring fiefdoms, and more permeate this amazing tale. All I can hope at this point is that there's more to come.

I highly recommend Renegades of the Empire to anyone that is interested in this sort of insider story. It's one of the best of its kind.


Renegades of the Empire
by Michael Drummond
Crown Publishers
ISBN: 0609604163
Web site

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