I came across an article the other day by Peter Seebach entitled Where
Does All the Processing Speed Go that articulates something that really
bothers me. It starts out:
Computers are getting faster all the time, or so they tell us. But, in fact, the
user experience of performance hasn’t improved much over the past 15 years. Peter
looks at where all the processor time and memory are going.
The crux of the article, if you don’t feel like reading it, is that while computers
are constantly getting faster, our experience with them isn’t. Although our experience
may be improving in other ways (aesthetics, features, portability, etc.), the day
to day experience of sitting down and doing something relatively simply can still
seem excruciatingly laborious. I typically use a 1 or a 1.25GHz PowerBook G4 with
a gig of RAM, and my impression is that these are about half the resources I actually
need to give me the experience I really want. I have an IBM ThinkPad next to me
running Windows XP Professional which, in many ways, is faster, but is less consistent
and reliable. Sometimes it just hits me that it’s 2005, probably 20 years since
I got my first computer, and:
- Computers still seem slow.
- A great deal of software is still unstable.
As the article points out, computers are doing a lot more today than they used
to, which is certainly the case. At this particular moment, I’m running Dreamweaver,
Quicksilver, Xnippets, multiple terminals with connections to multiple servers,
Proteus, vim, Eclipse, NetNewsWire, a VPN client, Stickies, Calculator, Mail, and
Firefox with several tabs. And that’s just in the foreground. In the background,
I’m running JRun and CFMX 7, MySQL, Apache, a firewall, and probably tons of other
stuff I can’t think of right now. I’m very good at maxing out and optimizing my
computer’s resources, however (I’m constantly watching CPU and memory usage), so
even at half or even a quarter the number of processes, it wouldn’t really feel
much faster. The issue is not so much all the applications I’m running as it is
our standards. We simply don’t expect our experience to get much better, and therefore
it doesn’t. We expect features and aesthetics more than we expect performance.
The best experience I’ve had with a computer was spending four years using Linux
as a Java developer. In my opinion, Linux is the fastest, most pleasant OS to use
on a daily basis, but of course, unless all you do is software engineering, it
doesn’t support enough applications to make it feasible for most people (including
me these days).
I’d like to see hardware manufacturers and software engineers start treating performance
as a feature. I’d like to see our standards as computer users go up a notch. As
I sit at my computer all day just about everyday, I’d like to start feeling like
it was 2005 rather than 1985. Am I alone here?