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Strategy Letter IV: Bloatware and the 80/20 myth

They just posted an article on Linux
Journal which quotes this letter, and
seriously questions the scope of validity of
its conclusions.

Interesting reading, both the article and the

Billy Joel
Thursday, February 14, 2002

The LJ article makes a point. Even because
the assertion that "loading a big program
is faster than it used to be" is just false,
many times: you add RAM just to *maintain*
the same speed.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

It doesn't seem the two articles are talking about the same thing to me.  The way I understand it, Joel is saying disk space is so cheap spending time making code smaller puts you a competitive disadvantage.  The LJ thing (it sorta looked liked someones notes for a paper, not a lot of linking sentences or thoughts going on) was saying there are advantages to keeping open source software small.  The disconnect I see is that Joel is talking about new versions of commercial software and LJ is talking about trying to keep open source software small so it can dominate all desktop and wireless clients, capturing "unexperienced users" and therefore all of the servers out there.  Seems to be another open source should rule the world article.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Joel's article was a fun example of how to lie with statistics.

The price per meg of disk has dropped a lot, yes.  When was the last time you bought a 100MB hard drive?

Eh? You didn't?  Bought a 40GB drive?  To accomodate Windows XP (1.5GB) and Office XP (325 MB), you say? 

Yeah, you do get more storage for video & whatnot, but bloat exists.  Don't try to ignore it.  That demographic of consumers who just want their computers to work don't care how big the drive is -- they just see the pricetag.  It's not *that* much different from before.


C. D.
Thursday, February 14, 2002

Exactly. For apps that don't need to be kept running for the whole day, the tradeoff is acceptable. For example, word, excel and powerpoint are only useful when my coworker send me email with details in the attachment. Once I glance through the information, I don't want that monster app sitting on my desktop.

Icq / msn message both takes at least 12mb of ram, outlook another 15mb, plus a dozen of whatsnot in the startup folder, they really ADDS UP. Now my 800mhz laptop's hd is really slow, with those bloatware dragging on its leg it's not any faster than my good old 333mhz desktop 2 years ago.

See, now I have a old desktop running on the side, and I have nuked all those bloatware from my laptop. The sole purpose of that desktop is to run those bloatware. With all these removed (plus all the unnecessary services turned off), my laptop starts up 40% faster. And surprise ! it's a lot more responsive and rarely rarely crashes.

With my faviorite editor, a few browser windows and couple of xterms, I'm happily cranking out codes every day.

Friday, February 15, 2002


I am the author of the LJ article I knew only one hour ago about this
forum. After reading all the comments, I would like to reply too.
Please be patient if second point is a bit long.  It is about real problems,
not another "open source should rule the world article".

1) Style (...looked liked someones notes for a paper...)

This is almost my first writing to ever get published, and English is
not my mother tongue. I will gratefully accept any constructive
criticism, if you are so kind to email me privately (see the article
for the address)

2) Open or Closed Source? It doesn't matter

Let's look at Joel's notes as generic westerner consumers, regardless
of software preferences, to see why both HW and SW should be optimized.

a) Forget what he says. Just power down your *new* computer, power it up
and measure how long it takes from that instant to you reading the
mail just downloaded, or actually start any other modern program,
whatever its license is. Did it take 20/30 times less than five years
ago? Looking at load time when everything else is already up and
running is reductive. See also:

b) Freedom of choice when buying hardware is getting smaller every day
(consumer, not geek freedom). They build new hardware ONLY for the guy
which plays 3-d games online all the time. And force everybody to buy
that, even if they will never use it. Try to measure the cost per
*needed* megabyte, will you? Cost per megabyte is meaningless if you
can't buy only those you need. The "but is so cheap, why bother?"
argument is equally ridiculous.

Yes, it is ridiculous. Apply it to cars. Today we have small cars,
big cars, family cars, sport cars,....Imagine you need a new SMALL one,
because you still just need it to buy groceries once a week 3 miles
away. Imagine this talk with the car salesman:

HE:  "sorry, sir, we only have Mercedes now, starting from 30000 USD"
YOU: "but I need just a *small* thing, don't want to spend that much"
HE:  "how can you be so cheap? Don't you realize what a good deal it
would be? They cost much less than three years ago, and the cost per
pound 100 times less than five years ago..."

Lat but not least:  you want a 3-d game station and word processor
integrated? Go buy it: your money is just yours, and nobody can tell
you how to use it. At the same time however, nobody else should spend
YOUR TAX MONEY without reasons: your generic county or state clerk, in
his office hours, only needs to write memos and do spreadsheets. Why
should he be equipped with 16 millions color cards, and multimillion
gate CPUs?

Personally, I would gladly buy a 4 GB hard disk at the same amount of
the 40 GB sold now, if it was the same speed, absolutely silent, and
go one year with one AAA battery. That would be progress, REGARDLESS
OF SOFTWARE. And any professional will tell you that if you do need 40
GB, many small disks will go much faster than one. They have cost
reduced the wrong things.

    Best regards,
            Marco Fioretti

Marco Fioretti (author of LJ article)
Friday, February 15, 2002

I have two computers on my desk. One runs linux, the other runs windows xp. The windows xp computer goes from cold start to running about four times faster than the linux one. What can we learn from this? I dunno - I never reboot either one of them so it doesn't matter to me which is faster.

Friday, February 15, 2002

There are many traps when removing bloatware.  Productivity, the fact that PCs are general-purpose machines, etc.

However, the fact of the Amiga apparently shoots half of these considerations down.  One day I'd like to sit down with one of those machines and try to see what was so good about them.

Still, reducing bloatware evokes a very stagnant world.  Bloat drives technology and usability.  After all, Michi in his keynote mentioned that it should be a crime to change APIs.  Well, sometimes the damn things need to break. 

If you can find an organic way to develop software this way, then it will be possible. 

Robert Milton
Friday, February 15, 2002


Personally I totally agree with you.  The presense of bloatware is ridiculous.

I think the Office Assistant is the best example.  How much resource is consumed by that irritating paper clip?  If only they could have spent as much money on a gifted author as they did on the graphic designer for that.

Games provide another good example.  I brought tomb raider 2 with my P166 a few years ago.

When Tomb Raider 3 game out it was very sluggish.  I had no chance of running 4.

Yet on the Playstation, the same piece of ageing kit will run the entire series without problems.  There is something fundamentally wrong with the way PCs work.

However, I also agree with Joel, becuase Joel's is a strategy letter.  It is not about the best way to write software, it is about how to be successful at selling it.  In the current commercial climate, Joels advice makes sense.

It sucks, but thats the way it is.

Ged Byrne
Saturday, February 16, 2002

Sorry, Marco, I have no idea why I addressed you as LJ.

Ged Byrne
Saturday, February 16, 2002

LJ = Linux Journal ?

Saturday, February 16, 2002

Ged sed . . .

>The presense of bloatware is ridiculous.
>There is something fundamentally wrong with the way PCs work

I agree with the bloatware comment, but I disagree with the second comment.  I think the problem actually lies within the consumer.

We drool over any new piece of software that Microsoft releases while PC Magazine and newspaper tech editors proclaim what a revolutionary product it is, with all those "can't live without" features.  The boxes literally fly off the shelf as we rush to upgrade our existing version which works perfectly.

Remember the hype surrounding Office 97?  The only significant addition I can recall is the paper clip, and I would hardly classify that as a revolutionary, can't live without feature.  However, we bought it in record numbers, thereby validating Microsoft's effort.  Microsoft must have thought "Wow, if they liked that, wait until they see what else we can add!" as high-fives flew around the conference room.

I believe that the consumer dictates the rules, not the manufacturer.

If we could somehow unite as consumers and universally agree that:
(a)  the paper clip is annoying as hell
(b)  the software is WAY too slow
(c)  the software requires WAY too much HD space
(d)  Sandra Bullock would marry the author of this post  (Hey, how did that get in there?  Well, it's a pipe dream too!)
(e)  we would not purchase the software until these concerns are addressed

In keeping with the dream, as a result of our "Universal Consumer Association", Microsoft would not sell one single copy of their shiny new software.  I'm reasonably confident they'd sit up and take notice.

(Mac afficianados:  Didn't this happen with a Mac version of Office a couple years ago?)


Ahhh, how sweet it is to dream.

The Man
Sunday, February 17, 2002

The Man,

Since the Sandra Bullok one is probably the most likely, good luck.

Ged Byrne
Sunday, February 17, 2002

I think I was wrong to say there was something wrong with how PCs work, since this implies a problem with the physical hardware.

Your right, it is the PC Market that has the problem.  People get what they deserve.

Ged Byrne
Sunday, February 17, 2002

What is bloatware?

How do you define it?  How do you measure it?  When does some piece of software switch from "bloatware" status to "non-bloatware"?

Think about it, these questions are at the very heart of the matter.

If you think that bloatware is just pure size of the software, think again.  These days, software has become very complex because users are very demanding.  More graphics, more help, more dictionaries.  In short, more data.

To me, bloatware is excess of code, but even this more restrictive definition is almost impossible to evaluate.  And my gut feeling is that if you compare the TEXT section (that means code) to the the BSS part (that's data), you will probably come to the conclusion that most of the size  of the software comes from the latter.

Bloatware is not the issue, but it's a convenient scapegoat for Open Source Software fanatics to diss commercial software.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

1) Well, we can't know why there's so much bloat in commercial software.  If they opened the source, we would. 

You can bet if Intel had its way, bloat would exist to drive processors.  It's just good business.

2) I agree there's a lot of bloat in software, but I accept it because developers tend to use bloat to make programming more elegant.  For example, we use XML, which in itself is a huge bloat layer.  But it's nice.

3) GUIs have an acceptable response time, before they seem slow to the user.  Something like 50 milliseconds; I forget exactly what it is.  The reason for much bloat is that while machines get faster, the 50 milli rule is still constant.  Therefore programmers optimize their programs so they hit the magic 50, and no further.

Rich Möritz
Monday, February 18, 2002

The problem with bloatware is that it is designed for the whole market and doesn't allow much in the way of user selection.

Rather like a restaurant where you go in and pay one price but you have to have everything on the menu even if you are not going to eat it. The result is that it takes longer to get through a meal, even if you just eat the same meal that you would have at another restaurant.

Different users, use different features. So for the market as a whole all the features are essential but for individuals there is a lot of space used that appears to be wasted.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

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