I read an interesting article the other day/week, and for the life of me I can’t find the source, but that’s not really that important: The article was musing about software bloat an all that.
Basically, the author said he/she installed a year’s old version of VisiCalc on a new machine and…guess what? Pretty much the same as today’s MS Excel.
I’ve been thinking about that, especially in relation to the revolution some are trying to put into place on the desktop: Apple’s OS X, Linux on the Desktop, MS’s Longhorn strategy.
How much power/many features do we need?
For what uses do we need them?
Caveat: I’m not a gamer, so all the comments will be for non-gaming uses. I know gaming requires a different set of requirements and so on from normal/power use, so … you have been warned.
Basically, I’ve always maintained that processor speed is not that big a deal – yes, faster is better, but I always help people buy computers by keeping processor speed lower than the latest and greatest and forwarding the funds saved to RAM upgrades.
That’s where you’re going to see some performance bumps.
For example, the computer I type this on – a Windoze box – is almost three years old. It has a now decidedly mid- to low-end processor: 1Ghz. At the time, I think it was the fastest I could get (when I buy computers for myself, I splurge…).
However, I did put a lot of RAM into it – 512M. While that’s not a bunch today for power users (1G would be the norm), it’s still – three years later – more than the average user gets (that’s around 256M, I think).
I’m not an average user, but the 512 is doing well for me.
Moral: Get RAM, not GHz.
As far as applications go, there is room for a lot of users – not most, but a lot – to make use of a lot of the so-called bloat features of applications go. Most users are pretty much content with using the basic Office products (usually just Word and Excel) without macros, maybe an occasional embedded picture (Word), or macro or chart (Excel).
Business users, of course, run both programs a little harder…but with them we’ve covered about 95% of users out there.
At least 95%.
That leaves numb-nuts like myself and other blogger/geeks. The extra horsepower is appreciated. Hell, I’m running a half-dozens servers (Web, database, FTP..) on this one box, and all is fine.
If – magically – the processor started clocking at 3GHz tomorrow, I’d certainly notice the difference, but I don’t really see many hangs here.
Moral: The power that’s been around for several years is good enough for at least 95% of today’s users.
OK, but I do see occasional hangs on my machines, and this is where the extra features/new apps and horsepower on new machines can come in handy: For the most part, this is is due to graphics.
For example, I’ve given my machine’s specs (1GHz, 512RAM) and note that it runs Win2000 – a WinNT lineage.
I have another machine in the house currently running Windows ME, and it’s only a 500MHz, 128RAM machine.
Yet Adobe’s Photoshop (v5.5 – a now older version) runs way faster – and opens wayyyy quicker on the lower-end machine. (Both are Dell Dimension/Intel boxes).
NT is just not optimized for graphics; it does better with data – running SQL Server or Apache/PHP or what have you. Not graphics.
Windows XP, from the little I’ve worked with it, is as sluggish with graphics as the other NTs I’ve run, as expected. The Win9x line appears to be optimized better for graphics, at least it seems that way to me.
Apple is the same way – it handles graphical data better than thread-based data. Again, to me. And I really can’t speak for DBs and so forth on OS X. I just don’t have the experience.
Here is where the new boxes are a big help – yesterday’s boxes just can’t handle some of the movie, music/sound, and graphic apps that are out today. Or, they could…but you would not want to be the one to be using them on such.
Run a million-year-old version of VisiCalc on an old box? No problemo.
Run a movie-editing program on an old box? No thanks….
Moral: Some new applications require new hardware; suck it up and take the padlock off your wallet.
On the other hand, there are the applications/OSes that do require new hardware that really shouldn’t. Take the VisiCalc vs. Excel comparison. Excel does do much more than VisiCalc, but – beyond graphs and macros – a lot of it is either barely used or just so much fluff.
I guess the best example of fluff is using Word as a desktop publishing tool. While some people love this (for whatever reason; mainly because they’ve never heard of QuarkXpress or simply because they have Word and not Quark), this is extending the tool a bit too far, for my taste.
When I need to do layout (print), I use Quark or PDF, not Word.
On the other hand (there’s always another hand), Word as desktop-publishing tool is probably the easiest way to share such data for both businesses and personal use. Everyone has Word. Power in standards.
Moral: Like it or not, bloat will continue, and sometimes there is a good reason for it. However, the average user doesn’t understand the ramifications of being able to, for example, embed a picture in Word (bloat; need for new hardware). App makers do ($$$$). And Intel/Dell (Delltel?) don’t mind, either…
So what’s the bottom line here??
I guess the bottom-line – the Uber-moral – is threefold:
- There is really little need for the bloat in current apps
- People will embrace the bloat, anyway, requiring more robust hardware
- Some apps require more robust hardware; get over it
That’s damn depressing…