posted by Bob Marr on Thu 10th Jun 2004 05:48 UTC
IconConsider these memory requirements for Fedora Core 2, as specified by Red Hat: Minimum for graphical: 192MB and Recommended for graphical: 256MB Does that sound any alarm bells with you? 192MB minimum? I've been running Linux for five years (and am a huge supporter), and have plenty of experience with Windows, Mac OS X and others. And those numbers are shocking -- severely so. No other general-purpose OS in existence has such high requirements. Linux is getting very fat.

I appreciate that there are other distros; however, this is symptomatic of what's happening to Linux in general. The other mainstream desktop distros are equally demanding (even if not as much as Fedora, for example Arch Linux or Slackware run Gnome on 128 MB, but not very comfortably when you load 2-3 apps at the same time), desktops and apps are bloating beyond control, and it's starting to put Linux in a troublesome situation. Allow me to elaborate.

A worrying tale

Recently, a friend of mine expressed an interest in running Linux on his machine. Sick and tired of endless spyware and viruses, he wanted a way out -- so I gave him a copy of Mandrake 10.0 Official. A couple of days later, he got back to me with the sad news I was prepared for: it's just too slow. His box, an 600 MHz 128MB RAM system, ran Windows XP happily, but with Mandrake it was considerably slower. Not only did it take longer to boot up, it crawled when running several major apps (Mozilla, and Evolution on top of KDE) and suffered more desktop glitches and bugs.

Sigh. What could I do? I knew from my own experience that XP with Office and IE is snappier and lighter on memory than GNOME/KDE with OOo and Moz/Firefox, so I couldn't deny the problem. I couldn't tell him to switch to Fluxbox, Dillo and AbiWord, as those apps wouldn't provide him with what he needs. And I couldn't tell him to grudgingly install Slackware, Debian or Gentoo; they may run a bit faster, but they're not really suitable for newcomers.

Now, I'm not saying that modern desktop distros should work on a 286 with 1MB of RAM, or anything like that. I'm just being realistic -- they should still run decently on hardware that's a mere three years old, like my friend's machine. If he has to buy more RAM, upgrade his CPU or even buy a whole new PC just to run desktop Linux adequately, how are we any better than Microsoft?

Gone are the days when we could advocate Linux as a fast and light OS that gives old machines a new boost. BeOS on an ancient box is still faster than Linux on the latest kit. And to me, this is very sad. We need REAL reasons to suggest Linux over Windows, and they're slowly being eroded -- bit by bit. Linux used to be massively more stable than Windows, but XP was a great improvement and meanwhile we have highly bug-ridden Mandrake and Fedora releases. XP also shortened boot time considerably, whereas with Linux it's just getting longer and longer and longer...

Computers getting faster?

At this rate, Linux could soon face major challenges by the upcoming hobby/community OSes. There's Syllable, OpenBeOS, SkyOS, ReactOS and MenuetOS -- all of which are orders of magnitude lighter and faster than modern Linux distros, and make a fast machine actually feel FAST. Sure, they're still in early stages of development, but they're already putting emphasis on performance and elegant design. More speed means more productivity.

To some people running 3 GHz 1G RAM boxes, this argument may not seem like an issue at present; however, things will change. A 200 MHz box used to be more than adequate for a spiffy Linux desktop, and now it's almost unusable (unless you're willing to dump most apps and spend hours tweaking and hacking). In those times, us Linux users were drooling over the prospect of multi-GHz chips, expecting lightning-fast app startup and super-smooth running. But no, instead, we're still waiting as the disk thrashes and windows stutter to redraw and boot times grow.

So when people talk about 10 GHz CPUs with so much hope and optimism, I cringe. We WON'T have the lightning-fast apps. We won't have near-instant startup. We thought this would happen when chips hit 100 MHz, and 500 MHz, and 1 GHz, and 3 GHz, and Linux is just bloating itself out to fill it. You see, computers aren't getting any faster. CPUs, hard drives and RAM may be improving, but the machines themselves are pretty much static. Why should a 1 GHz box with Fedora be so much slower than a 7 MHz Amiga? Sure, the PC does more - a lot more - but not over 1000 times more (taking into account RAM and HD power too). It doesn't make you 1000 times more productive.

It's a very sad state of affairs. Linux was supposed to be the liberating OS, disruptive technology that would change the playing field for computing. It was supposed to breathe new life into PCs and give third-world countries new opportunities. It was supposed to avoid the Microsoftian upgrade treadmill; instead, it's rushing after Moore's Law. Such a shame.

Table of contents
  1. "Linux Needs Diet, Page 1/2"
  2. "Linux Needs Diet, Page 2/2"
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