Tech & Work

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Software - keep it short and sweet

Less bloated software means greater productivity for all

Compiled in a car park in Redcar UK, edited in my garden on a warm summer evening, and dispatched to silicon.com from The IoD via a free wi-fi service two weeks later.

For more than 35 years the immutable law of software has seen the inclusion of more and more features with each upgrade of applications and operating system.

In turn this has led to more code, and the ticking time bomb of increasing brittleness and user frustration. Thousands of features have gone unnoticed and unused, while hard drives have had to grow from megabytes to gigabytes, and operating speeds have tended to stabilise or slow down despite the increased power and energy consumption of our integrated circuits.

The best mission statement of any software company I've ever seen is: "We intend to ship fewer lines of code on each successive upgrade."

If only all software produces obeyed this mantra how much better users' lives would be!

It has always seemed to me that buying software code by the tonne was not only a flawed model but also untenable in the long term. As with many things in the IT world, software is definitely in the 'less is more' category. But the business model has always been: more features equals more money.

But that light in the distance may well be the end of the tunnel and not an approaching railway engine about to crash! The two biggest suppliers of OS software (Microsoft and Apple) have at last turned this corner and are shipping much smaller (by 50 per cent in Apple's case) versions of their OS while also charging less for the upgrade.

Hurrah!

I sense a software clean-up coming where defunct code is weeded out or at least tidied up, features become increasingly refined, and long-term product stability improves dramatically and visibly.

We have been used to seeing transistor density and data storage double (thereabouts) year-on-year. It will now be interesting to see in how many years applications' and operating systems' code can be halved!

Faster boot-up and response times, fewer crashes and lock-ups will just improve human productivity, while the reduction in energy needs could see smaller batteries and lighter machines.

Today my laptop feels more like a hot plate than a computer - and it might just be that it will become cool too!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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