Friday 1 April 2011

Whoooosh! Part 1

When was the last time a computer really amazed you with its speed?

So much power, all those cores, so many Gigahertz, tens of megabits per second and yet we still spend a lot of our time watching spinners/throbbers/hourglasses/progress meters. Why?

I'd have to say the last bastion of impressive speed is Google. Nobody else is doing breathtaking displays of performance any more, and it saddens me.

Growing up in the golden age of 8-bittery, my first experiences of computers involved painful cassette-based loads (not to mention hugely-unreliable saves), that took tens of minutes. Next stop was an Apple IIe, and the speed and reliability of its (single-sided) 5.25" drive made the frequent PLEASE INSERT SIDE 2 operations seem worthwhile.

My first hard-disk experience was at the other end of a high-school Farallon PhoneNet and it was barely quicker than the floppy drive in the Mac Plus I was accessing it from, but it was definitely an improvement.

Next stop was my Dad's 486 with a whopping 120Mb of Western Digital Caviar on its VESA Local Bus. What a beast - that thing flew through Write on Windows 3.11! Moore's Law (or at least the layman's interpretation of it - that raw speed doubles every 18 months) seemed to be in full effect; the world was an exciting place.

But then it ran Windows 95 like a dog. My Pentium 60 was definitely better (especially after I upped its RAM from 8 to 40Mb) but that snappiness was gone again when Windows 98 got its claws into it.

Now the internet's come along, and we've gone through the whole Intel giveth, Microsoft taketh away cycle again, but this time ADSL connections and Apache give, and poor HTML compliance, bloated, inefficient Javascript and whopping images are making it feel like the dial-up days are still here.

When I first started hacking together web pages, I would copy them in their entirety onto a floppy disk (remember those?) and load them into the browser from there for a taste of dialup speed. It worked really well for spotting places where I could get content to the eyeball faster.

If you are putting anything on the web, please do the modern-day equivalent and run YSlow against your stuff. And let's get that whoooosh back on the web!

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