Sunday, July 24, 2011

666 megabytes, the number of the beastly bloat

I just downloaded an update to the software on my iPhone. It was 666 megabytes!

Apart from the unfortunate number (the same as the price for the Apple 2 back in the day*), that is just huge! And that's just for an intermediate update to the Operating System on a Phone! (admittedly more of a palm computer than a phone, really.)
I realize features are being added all the time, so I have to wonder, how much of this bloat is necessary, and how much... not? Say, if Apple or MS only had programmers with IQ 666, and 666 hours to work in every day, how much smaller could the OS be with the same features?
It's a pretty abstract problem, I'm sure we don't see perfect programming anywhere. Nobody writes in machine language, it's all cobbled together from biggish blocks of programming in the coding apps. And serious streamlining would probably take serious time, so I guess we're all simply dependant on hardware getting better all the time.

* Steve Wozniak was asked about it:
"He laughed and told me that when he and Jobs came to an agreement on the retail sales price for the Apple 1 of $666.66 - he didn't even realize that the 666 number was in any way related to Satan and it had nothing to do at all with the '666' number of the beast or anything pertaining to satanic stuff. He said: "I simply like triple digit numbers with all the things I'm involved with, the cost of making the Apple 1 was around $540 or there abouts and we agreed on the best markup, retail price above the cost of building it, which worked out to $666. Jobs then tacked on the 66 cents to make it an eye-catcher price for the ads with the sale and promotion publications of it to the public."


Pop! said...

With iOS and Apple’s App Store, every time you update a software package, you’re re-downloading and replacing that entire package. It’s nice to know that the OS doesn’t get 666 MB bigger every time you update it — but it’s not as nice to have to re-download lots of data that you already have.

I believe that Apple will introduce delta updates in iOS 5, so that you will have to download only the changed parts of the software. Unfortunately, as Mac users know, those delta updates, in OS X at least, can still be pretty big. It takes clever engineering to produce tiny updates like Google Chrome’s. Most companies would rather spend their engineering on flashier things like new features than try to keep software small or even test it thoroughly.

I am grateful to companies that sometimes step off the new-feature treadmill to address embarrassing problems like massive software, slow or unreliable products or hard-to-use features. Companies that eternally deny that their products have problems are all too common!

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Well, both biggies sorta did this with the last major upgrades. (Whether it worked or not...)

Amazing it's taken so long to get delta updates. I never heard of them before, I just assumed that was like it was.

Timo Lehtinen said...

Amazing it's taken so long to get delta updates.

We've had deltas in Unix (of which iOS is a version of) since the 1980s. It's just that Apple cares more of the UI than core functionality, which is why, I assume, it has taken so long.

Antoni Mączyński said...

on the other hand bandwidth is kinda cheap these days, and by downloading the whole thing you minimize the possibility that something gets messed up in code

Anonymous said...

Apparently 616 is the real number of the beast:

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Hah, that's rich.

"616"... it lacks a certain... je ne sais quoi.

Anonymous said...

Yeah it's just not the same...