One Man’s Disenchantment With The World Of Software


There is a widely derided quote attributed to [Bill Gates], that “640k should be enough for anyone”. Meaning of course that the 640 kb memory limit for the original IBM PC of the early 1980s should be plenty for the software of the day, and there was no need at the time for memory expansions or upgrades. Coupled with the man whose company then spent the next few decades dominating the software industry with ever more demanding products that required successive generations of ever more powerful PCs, it was the source of much 1990s-era dark IT humour.

XKCD no. 303 (CC BY-NC 2.5)
XKCD no. 303 (CC BY-NC 2.5)

In 2018 we have unimaginably powerful computers, but to a large extent most of us do surprisingly similar work with them that we did ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. Web browsers may have morphed from hypertext layout formatting to complete virtual computing environments, but a word processor, a text editor, or an image editor would be very recognisable to our former selves. If we arrived in a time machine from 1987 though we’d be shocked at how bloated and slow those equivalent applications are on what would seem to us like supercomputers.

[Nikita Prokopov] has written an extremely pithy essay on this subject in which he asks why it is that if a DOS 286 could run a fast and nimble text editor, the 2018 text editor requires hundreds of megabytes to run and is noticeably slow. Smug vi-on-hand-rolled GNU/Linux users will be queuing up to rub their hands in glee in the comments, but though Windows may spring to mind for most examples there is no mainstream platform that is immune. Web applications come under particular scorn, with single pages having more bloat than the entirety of Windows 95, and flagship applications that routinely throw continuous Javascript errors being the norm. He ends with a manifesto, urging developers to do better, and engineers to call it out where necessary.

If you’ve ever railed at bloatware and simply at poor quality software in general, then [Nikita]’s rant is for you. We suspect he will be preaching to the converted.

Windows error screen: Oops4321 [CC BY-SA 4.0]



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