Originally Published: Wednesday, 9 August 2000 Author: Master Sibn
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Your Computer May be Used as a Bloatation Device

With all the criticism saying that Linux and so many of its programs are horrendous bloatware, the hard disk must certainly be in some form of balloonic state by now. If you examined the interior of that little metal case, there would surely be at least a few bubbles on the disk.

When was the last time you were on an airplane? Remember that before takeoff the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration; United States office) requires the steward or other qualified personnel to let you know that in case of an emergency, such as a crash in the Atlantic, what you may use as a floatation device?

I recently had the privilege of flying SouthWest airlines, and in their case, the floatation device is your seat cushion.

I thought about this for quite some time (a little over two months, actually), and just began to wonder: Could I apply this to my computer? I believe so. After some thought, I have decided that indeed your computer could probably keep you afloat in such an emergency.

Just think about it for a moment. With all the criticism saying that Linux and so many of its programs are horrendous bloatware, the hard disk must certainly be in some form of balloonic state by now. If you examined the interior of that little metal case, there would surely be at least a few bubbles on the disk.

I'm sure that modern science could identify and use at least some of the gases that form these little pockets of bloat. Perhaps we could all get together and make some money this way, if the constitution of this wonder gas is of extraordinary value. Open Source Software would begin to pay for itself.

In all honesty, I don't see the problem to be this bad. However, I think there is a very real need to cut down on bloat. I can see it pretty clearly, myself. My installation of Linux (including all my downloaded programs, my games, and other miscellaneous stuff accounts for 4,590 megabytes of disk space. Is this really necessary? Probably not. After all, the /home directory is only 247 megabytes (spanning four user accounts). I keep the source for applications that I install, and my source directory which contains only uncompressed archives is a mere 353 megabytes because I periodically wipe old versions of apps, or apps I don't use. To be fair, I also have 868 MB worth of pixmaps I use to decorate the root window. All things like this taken into account, where does all the space go? The other 3,122 MB? Well, 1,488 MB of it is free software that I installed.

I think this is a pretty clear indication that we're not realizing our full potential here. It's easy for me to say this, because I'm still learning C and C++. But it's pretty hard to look at all that space and say that it's all clean software. Somehow, I'm using up over 1,600 megabytes of space and I simply don't know where it all is.

You don't just lose 1.5 gigabytes of stuff (Well, ok, so I've done that before). It's not something you can easily misplace. With some applications commonly perceived to be bloatware such as X 3.3 weighing 92 MB, I have to wonder exactly where 1.5 GB could possibly go.

Well, it's certainly not the kernel. The Linux kernel is simply the most magnificent piece of coding work I've ever seen, period. It's absolutely glorious. It may have its quirks, and incompatibilities, but new versions of the kernel are almost always around 16 MB for the tar/gzipped source code. The compiled kernel is usually under 1 MB. That is astonishing, when you consider that software that has little to do can take up much space. For example, the venerable xmms program expands to 34 MB in its installation directory.

Thirty-four megabytes. Do you realize what that means? This program that plays music is a full third the size of the SVGA X server. Gnapster, which will retrieve music files for this application is only 5 MB in its directory.

Ok, so I think I'm getting an idea where I could lose 1.5 GB. It's not the fault of xmms or their designers either; it's an excellent program, and easily as cool as Winamp ([c] Nullsoft). As a rule, every application is like this. The latest development version of GIMP takes 185 MB. Licq, essentially a networking device with a custom protocol is 13 MB. Good, but I'm sure it could get better. WordPerfect is 52 MB, and Star Office is 156.

I have a simple solution for all this. It will certainly take effort, but I think it deserves some consideration.

Version numbers should be reflective of the state of software. A minor version upgrade should try to address the key issues of security, stability, minor features (such as support for Mouse Wheel), and efficiency.

By efficiency, I mean that a developer should really push to make each new version of software more compact than its predecessor. Major version numbers should especially embrace this concept. There is an excuse for a major version number bringing a larger software package, but since it's a major number, some things are expected to be rewritten as well to be more efficient. My congratulations go to the XFree86 team for their recent accomplishment with XFree86 4.0.x. It takes up less space on my machine, is more generic (therefore portable) with various hardware, and would run better than XF 3.3 if I could figure out how to configure it, I'm sure. This is the ideal launch: The software gets smaller, and it does *more*.

Rather than patch together systems with spittle and baling wire, let's try to juggle another problem into the mix of things on the TODO list: bloat. I don't expect to wear a bandage for the rest of my life, you know.

-msibn wants a taco.