11 January 2007

Clearing The Overhead

I used to work for that software giant across the lake (vis-a-vis Seattle-proper), and the whole time I was there I walked around the office in a little bit of a fog. It was my first real job, and I functioned there with only the dimmest idea of the larger machine in which I was a cog, let alone how it worked. I would tell myself that it didn't matter, that these things were implementation details with which I need not concern myself. But regardless it seemed to take up space in my brain, operating there, sucking up the back end memory cache, sometimes sneaking in and using a portion of the hard drive as RAM. It was an active process in a partition of my active memory I couldn't access or sudo kill -9. In order to work where I was working, the process had to keep running and be given free reign of as much extra brain space as it wanted.

When I moved over to a company that was just as complicated, but was and still is a Unix/Linux shop, that process halted and I was left with a whole new load of free memory and a blinking command line prompt. It's probably not surprising that working at MS is an incredibly apt metaphor for using any one of their applications--in order to get the simple function that one wants, one must accept the enormous overhead of the process that performs it as well as 10,000 other ones that one doesn't. It's perhaps no more surprising that it's a similarly good metaphor for Being In The World these days. If one wants to be able to select ones media/information/entertainment/identity without having it fed directly to one by, say, a major corporation or network television, one has to buy the entire bloated application. One cannot find one new song, one can only find 10,000. One can no longer have a pocket calculator that adds, subtracts, multiplies, divides, and takes square roots. One can only have "...a powerful tool you can use to analyze, communicate, and manage information, to make more informed decisions...publishing a financial forecast for an executive review or providing a business report to an external auditor...communicate your analysis in professional-looking reports and charts that are much easier to create." No longer satisfied with your eyes and ears, the information age wants your brain space.


Periapse said...

Yes indeed -- a great metaphor for future shock (or I guess it's really "present shock") and an always enjoyable bit of MS bashing.

My first home computer was an Apple ][+ with 64K of RAM (and no hard drive, the OS was on a floppy which had to load every boot). Most BASIC programs I wrote for it were under 1K. My Fortran code for NASA's VAXes (at about the same time, early 1980's) might be as big as 10K. When I got Visual C++ and wrote my first "Hello, world" app on MS's premier platform, I was dumbfounded to discover that my four lines of code became a 100K executable.


Transient Gadfly said...

Yes, but what a feature-rich "Hello World" app it was.