Will software gallop to our rescue?

My first love, apart from my family and close friends, has always been software. I say ‘always’ but, in truth, it’s only been since November 1965, when I got 100 percent in a programming aptitude test. "Good Lord," I thought in astonishment, "And I can actually get paid for doing this?"

Since then, software has been at the heart of my life. Along the way, other skills have been added to the portfolio, particularly writing and teaching. And these skills have taken me into other areas, such as environmental sustainability. First in 1973 but then in a much more substantial way in 2002 when I became closely involved with an exceedingly large sustainability exemplar project. And now with Freeform Dynamics, where I am the environmental specialist, among other things.

While the economic and environmental bad news whirls around our heads, the one thing I know for sure is that software will be a major contributor to overcoming our ills. Not a panacea, but a fine contributor.

As Nicholas Negroponte has been saying for 15 years, "move bits not atoms". And that is one of the major contributions that software can make. In fact, only software can make it. Whether it’s Citrix Online style screen-sharing or remote access or full blown telepresence conference rooms, they not only cut the moving of atoms, they also accelerate business processes and cut travel bills.

The other good thing about software is that it is a product with barely any environmental footprint. It can be delivered as a stream of bits and be paid for with another stream of bits.

For those that don’t know, I used to be a software publisher, banging out product in expensive boxes with clunky manuals and floppy disks. But since 2001, this very part-time business has been run wholly electronically from the corner of a server somewhere in America. The programmer and I meet rarely (once a year on average), but we’re in intimate, friendly and fairly continuous, contact online. And, of course, all support, ‘paperwork’ and accounting is done electronically.

Our product was lovingly crafted in C++ (following my initial development using the 8080 assembler) and it is tiny for what it does.

I’m not trying to sell anything here, but I can’t help noticing that, by contrast, most of the systems I see today are packed full of bloatware, along with programs and data files which have become moribund. But most users are incapable of dealing with such issues unaided. They need software tools.

If larger programs could be debloated and users helped (in plain English please) with program and file removal, we could stall the madness of buying new equipment just because our old stuff has become clogged up and slow.

As with the organisational benefits of ‘atoms to bits’, users will benefit from slicker running, gain a financial benefit and reduce their environmental impact all at the same time.

Now, someone tell me these things exist. Please?

Or, if not, why not?

Thank you.

3 thoughts on “Will software gallop to our rescue?

  1. I am afraid that the trends seems to be towards the opposite direction, with tools such as the .NET framework considerably contributing to ever increasing memory and processor requirements for what are really simple functions, apparently implemented with pleasing the eye as priority. The overwhelming number of mind mapping programs out there is an indication.
    There is clearly little incentive for optimising, whereas there is (or seems to be) for more and more features and eye candy. As with all ‘cheap’ resources, PC memory is ultimately wasted. Unfortunately, the link between memory waste and global warming seems too indirect for most IT people.
    Yet there is light: for example, I believe that the new market for cheap and less powerful machines –created by the OLPC initiative and leading to offerings such as Asus’ Eeepc- will in turn create a new market for less memory hungry applications.

  2. I just downloaded a trial copy of Visio (just Visio, not the Office Suite) and was astounded to see that it was 230 megabytes!!!
    In fairness, running with a diagram up the footprint was only 16 megabytes.
    I agree with you that programs are getting larger, slower and in some ways stupider. But OH MY! they spare no expense when it comes to putting lipstick on the pig. The graphics budget must be more than half the production cost.
    Go check out topicscape for an example of a totally useless program where the graphics has caused the designers to lose sight of the whole purpose of the enterprise. Supposedly topicscape is a “3D” application. In fact it’s no more 3D than checkers is a 3D game. One is presented with an overhead view of hierarchical nodes arbitrarily organized by the program. One can zoom down or around but, the fact of the matter is that there is no information presented on the z axis that couldn’t be done more effectively by just having a top down view of venn diagram circles using various designs and colors to show relationships.
    I just cover my mouth and shake my head when I read about how these guys spent MONTHS deciding what shapes to use.
    What they ended up with is a program that takes 100 megabytes of working memory, a 2 Gighertz processor and still runs like slowpoke. No multiple views and almost invisible graph edges to show relationships.
    I won’t even go into TheBrain. Their idea of “improving” it was to rewrite it in the bloatware language du jour – Java.
    One utility that could really help with the bloatware issue is a layer sitting between the filesystem and user space that would keep track of every file that’s actually used. A utility would run periodically to archive dead files. Naturally the layer software would be able to go to the archive and restore if a “black swan” event occurs and the system actually needs an archived file. This would all be transparent to the user.
    This may seem silly in an age of terabyte hard drives but a tremendous price is paid for searching through a directory with tens of thousands of tiny files that are never used. Think of the cache space that gets clogged up with all these entries.
    Image backup becomes easier too since the boot drive contains only files that are actually used.
    I’m not holding breath waiting for Microsoft or Apple to provide something like this.

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