posted by Davon Shire on Wed 23rd Feb 2005 21:51 UTC

"Days of Lean, Page 2/2"
Code bloat has become the norm now that Memory and hard drive space is reasonably cheap. But that same code bloat also slows down the over all speed of the operating system as that much more data has to flow through the processor and ram. 'But! (you cry) Look at all the wonderful capabilities you have in the Desktop. Stuff almost just like Windows.' 'Just like Windows' .. Ironic isn't it? they say all too often in war, you become what you hate.

To that end people in OSS have for the last 6 years or so really worked hard to try and make something to replace Windows on peoples computers. Something free, made with their own hands, and something that will always be available to the masses who simply want their little box of plastic, silicon, copper and steel to do something for them they think they need.

Is there any way we can reduce the memory footprint of what we build and use to improve overall, our UNIX of choice? Our Desktop, our Graphical User Interface? I remember ages a go when I had a 1GB hard drive and I fit Windows, Slackware and FreeBSD on it all with room to do what I wanted and GUI's on every one. Today if you've only got a GB of disk space you can shoehorn in any of these but there won't be much room for anything else. Does this mean we are better off? Are we actually doing more for all the space this bloat takes up? Or have we just become obsessed with doing something like someone else.. cough.. MS cough. Or doing something better than someone else.

In my humble opinion, Innovation was the most significant hallmark of OSS. Doing something that was smarter, better, more efficient than the big guy. We still have some astounding innovators don't get me wrong. Fabrice is an amazing example. FFmpeg, TTC, QEMU just as a sample. Blender is another project that's just amazing. It's code is small, but it's capability is HUGE! Audacity, slirp (the original user land nat/ppp/slip emulator.) These are probably the most amazing projects I've seen in the last 8 years of working with computers.

Open office is a great example of duplicating effort for the soul purpose of being free. It's not really much smaller than Microsoft's Office 2000. In general it matches most all of Office's functions pretty closely. OSS advocates say it's great because it gives you a choice and it's free. I say it's still as big a resource hog as Office.

2 years ago people whined.. 'Mozilla is sooo huge! let's do something and cut out all this code bloat' Now people tout Firefox because it's small, fast and free. When you look at the resulting differences in this anti-bloat driven craze. You realize that when you group Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird together you get about the same code size as Mozilla did previously. Here we've divvied up functionality to try and be faster, smaller better. but not really innovative.

Here are some questions I have for you to ponder, answer or gloss over:

  1. How small could we make a functional desktop with Microsoft Windows like features? Memory foot print and file size. It doesn't have to have every bell and whistle. It just needs to be intuitive and usable.
  2. What would be the real losses functionality wise if someone built an Office suite that only needed 10 Megs (This is completely Arbitrary) of disk space but inter operated file wise with Microsoft's Office.
  3. Could we really accomplish much of what we do today on our UNIX desktops on a machine that only had a 486 and 32 megs of ram?
  4. Are these desktops and applications huge because we have the room or it couldn't be done with smaller, better code?
  5. Would we see any real world advantage by making the desktop, applications, toolkits more compact an efficient? Understand real world encompasses development time too. So if it took 3 months to code something tight that someone could write in their huge code in 2 weeks. Clearly we'd be looking at a disadvantage.

In closing, anyone who wishes to comment on what I've said here or who wants to answer the questions, I thank you sincerely for responding no matter your view. I feel strongly that the soul of OSS is in hock for the sake of beating the other team by supplantation, instead of being better than the other team by innovation.

Maybe I'm on this little rant today because I remember my days when I wailed pitiously that my TRS-80 Model I lvl II machine with it's 4K of ram complained to me so often that I'd run out of room for the program I'd spent 10 hours writing. Because I had no room for strings left, when I typed RUN.

Till next time, if there is a next time. Thank you for your time. Sincerely,
Davon Shire.


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Table of contents
  1. "Days of Lean, Page 1/2"
  2. "Days of Lean, Page 2/2"
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