Frans Bouma has posted a multifaceted muse about the nature of operating systems as collections of components. In talking about Vista, he touches on something very close to my heart – the allocation of resources to the OS:
How it’s going now is that the OS is starting to become (or already has become) an application on its own. And IMHO that’s a bad thing. If the effectively amount of raw computer power left to my applications under Vista is roughly the same as it was under Windows 2000 on a P3-933, what have we won in all those years? IMHO not much besides pretty pictures and shiny mirrors. But trust me, shiny mirrors and pretty pictures don’t get the job done you have to do.
He also mentions the Amiga (I had a 500 and then a 1200 with a 120MB HD):
My Amiga 500 with 1MB ram and a 7.16MHz processor was perfectly capable of task-switching the cr*p out of different threads/processes, so it’s not the core-OS that needs all that power.
Every now and again, I look at Windows and I baulk at the fact that the heap of components in front of me is doing (year on year) more and more in the name of housekeeping than in dealing with the computing tasks I throw at it. I spend more and more of my time finding and eliminating non-essential services, as I get some sort of perverse satisfaction from stripping my machine back to the bare essentials to run my software.
But as Frans says, this is not a great way to ship software, especially something as core as an OS. We’re having to subtract from our systems to get them to run reasonably, or throw more hardware at it. Frans uses the example of Linux as an OS that only installs the components you need; since I haven’t used Linux for 5 years or more, I’ll use the example of Firefox as a browser platform that starts bare and adds only what you ask for.
I’m going to get a bit ecological now – we need to stop wasting resources to add fancier transparent 3D windows. I really don’t care how cool they look – if that UI requires that people upgrade their PCs and have spanking new graphics cards that have to run DirectX 10.0 with Shader Model 5 … to achieve what exactly? All that power has to come from somewhere, and we’re wasting physical resources to get it. If I have to add a 600W PSU and a GeForce 10000 with a heatsink the size of a house brick just to run an OS with a spinny-zoomy rotatable view of exactly the same work I was doing before, then we’re killing the planet just to put doodads in front of our physogs.
This isn’t why I got into computing. When I was a kid I had this great book about the future. The pictures in it foretold of a time when computers and technology would mean we had a vast amount of leisure time to spend with our friends and families; that pollution would be a thing of the past thanks to computer-designed green energy sources; that the places we lived would be beautiful landscaped affairs; in short, that we would use technology to allow sustainable, egalitarian lives and solve real physical problems such as disease and hunger.
Instead, the fetishisation of growth and gadgets that leads to something like Vista mean we’re actually polluting more, working more, killing more, and it’s getting in the way of what should be our real life’s work.
So essentially, what I’m saying is that Vista is responsible for the fact we don’t all live in condominiums set in lush valleys surrounded by wind turbines and green transportation. I’ll leave it to anyone who made it to the end of this post to tell Bill.