Langa Letter: Rethinking 'Software Bloat'

Fred Langa takes a trip into his software archives and finds some surprises--at two orders of magnitude.
Is The Future Fat Or Lean?
So: Some of what we see in today's huge software packages is indeed simple code bloat, and some of it also is the bundling of the features that we want on our desktops. I don't see the latter changing any time soon. We want the features and conveniences to which we've become accustomed.

But there are signs that we may have reached some kind of plateau with the simpler forms of code bloat. For example, with Windows XP, Microsoft has abandoned portions of its legacy support. With fewer variables to contend with, the result is a more stable, reliable operating system. And over time, with fewer and fewer legacy products to support, there's at least the potential for Windows bloat to slow or even stop.

Linux tends to be self-correcting. If code-bloat becomes an issue within the Linux community, someone will develop some kind of a "skinny penguin" distribution that will pare away the needless code. (Indeed, there already are special-purpose Linux distributions that fit on just a floppy or two.)

While it's way too soon to declare that we've seen the end of code bloat, I believe the signs are hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, the "code fast, make it work, hardware will catch up" mentality will die out, and our hardware can finally get ahead of the curve. Maybe, just maybe, software inefficiency won't consume the next couple orders of magnitude of hardware horsepower.

What's your take? What's the worst example of bloat you know of? Are any companies producing lean, tight code anymore? Do you think code bloat is the result of the forces Fred outlines, or it more a matter of institutional sloppiness on the part of Microsoft and other software vendors? Do you think code bloat will reach a plateau, or will it continue indefinitely? Join in the discussion!