Make my OS Faster

Have you noticed how all prominent operating systems seem to bloat with each release? Windows is probably the best example, but even Ubuntu had slowly gained weight and become more of a resource hog over the years. It’s sad really. Instead of becoming leaner, more optimized and streamlined our OS’s become bigger, more sluggish and encumbered with tons of unnecessary features. The primary driving force behind OS development these days is usability (a noble cause) and multiplying the feature count. Because nothing shows that the new version is better than a bullet list of new features that can be printed on a sales brochure. The OS makers are often forgoing optimization relying on Moore’s law to pick up the slack. Naturally they forget that most users do not replace their computer every 18 months. Therefore there is a discrepancy between what users have in terms of hardware, what should they have based on Moore’s law and what the developers are shooting for.

The result is that unless you have a bleeding edge hardware, your new OS is likely to run anywhere between slow and sluggish. Add an array of resident tools such as Anti Virus suite, print monitors, media programs that launch on start up, preloaders of various applications, IM suites and you have a machine that is moving in slow motion from the day one. Any new resident programs and (God forbid) inevitable malware infections will bring the machine to a grinding halt. If not today, then tomorrow when new releases of software will assume hardware moved to the next performance bracket as predicted by Moore’s law.

If you have ever worked in IT you know that the #1 user complaint you will hear on a daily basis is “my computer is slow”. Actually, you don’t even have to work in IT to know that. All you need is to work in any field where you need some technical knowledge. Or hell, if you ever reveal any kind of computer know-how to your friends and relatives you will likely be overrun with questions on how to make windows faster.

Slow performance is such a pervasive issue that even malware makers are using a promise of fixing it as a bait. If I had a penny for every time I’ve seen someone download a “registry cleaner”, “system speedup toolkit” or other “turbo booster” software which was really a trojan, I would be a rich man. People fall for this trick all the time, because they get desperate. They buy a computer which runs fine for 6 months to a year, and then starts becoming more and more sluggish. No matter what they do, they can’t return it to the original performance. Why?

Well, it’s a difficult question. The performance degradation has many possible causes:

  1. Malware
  2. Resident programs running at start up
  3. Unnecessary services running in the background
  4. 3rd party software modifying the OS functions ways that degrade performance (a/v suites are big offenders here)
  5. Disk fragmentation
  6. OS updates that increase memory footprint and CPU load
  7. Other software updates that increase memory footprint of running services
  8. Gremlins maliciously flipping bits in the memory for LULZ
  9. Bit bucket becoming full and overflowing
  10. Machine spirits nesting in the hardware

That last one is something I keep warning people about. If you keep personifying your computer, it will eventually cause a machine spirit to coalesce inside of your computer case. These spirits are not really autonomous beings – they are more like an empathic echo. They acquire all the personality traits which the user commonly ascribes to the machine. So if you keep saying something like “this computer hates me” or “I hate this computer” the machine spirit will really hate you, or assume you hate it and will work against you. A machine that is loved, and pampered may behave much better – but it can become moody, and downright malicious when it starts suspecting that the user is planing to replace it. Even if your machine spirit is benign most of the time, it still needs to steal some CPU cycles and some memory to store it’s personality and cognitive processes. The older the machine spirit, the more resources it requires. The only way to get rid of a machine spirit is to stop feeding it. When you think of your machine as an inanimate electronic box, or better yet – a tool, or extension of yourself the spirit will eventually cease to exist.

All joking aside, part of the performance degradation issue lies in the simple fact that most our operating systems are bloated to begin with. So even if you take a slow machine, wipe it clean and reinstall the OS it will still be slow. By the time you install all the current patches, all upgrades and equip it with the latest a/v suite you will be almost back to where you started minus the malware. But the user will install that back as soon as he gets the machine back. This happens because new applications and the OS updates are tailored at current hardware, whereas most users will be running them on a machine that is one or two Moore’s law iterations behind (if not more). Not only that, but our perception of what is fast changes quite significantly over the years. Your machine might have seemed fast 4 years ago, but that’s because it was on the cutting edge back then. Now the cutting edge has moved.

The more complex and feature full the operating systems get, the more prone they become to general crufting. For years now I have been dreaming about a lean, stripped down mainstream OS that would be available to general public, and could be installed on slightly older hardware. I mean, yes – you can do this with a stripped down Linux distro. For example I heard good things about Arch, and Crux. But these are more of a fringe systems that are targeted at enthusiasts. Not necessarily something you install on your neighbors machine when he cries about performance issues. Besides, if you try hard enough you can make those systems bloated as well.

Microsoft has it’s Windows Fundamentals thing, which is a stripped down XP. Still, it can only be obtained via Volume Licensing which means it is clearly not targeted at the home market. Also, Fundamentals seems a bit like an afterthought – it’s not a flagship product and gets limited amount of attention.

What we really need is a modern OS designed from ground up to be lean, mean and optimized for performance. I mean something built for speed and usability – not retrofitted for it by stripping off useful features and degrading user experience. The most user friendly Linux distributions are usually tailored towards feature bloat. Can Google Chrome break that trend?

Google certainly has the clout to market this OS to the masses, and brand recognition that won’t make people run for the hills. It’s still Linux, but people won’t know about it, and therefore won’t be scared of trying it. Could chrome be the first user friendly, mainstream Linux distro tailored towards non-geeks using legacy hardware?

It’s certainly interesting. I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the OS to see if it will follow the same high quality design as most other Google products. I’m also very curious as to how it will be received by mainstream, non-technical population.

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9 Responses to Make my OS Faster

  1. Garrick UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This is one of the main reasons I was happy to for over $30 to Apple for the new release of OS X (Snow Leopard). It had almost no new features, and was just a streamlined and optimized version of OS X. It happened to take up quite a bit less disk space too. It spead up my 1st generation MacBook quite a bit.
    Microsoft seems to be heading in the same direction with Windows 7, but I have my doubts on how much that will help them.

    I do my primary computing at home on an Asus netbook, running a modified Ubuntu Netbook Remix. My other desktop is a stripped down server install of Ubuntu using Fluxbox as a window manager. I don’t need flash, I need functionality. I want to run a quick os on last years hardware. Chrome OS may soon do that, but for now, I will roll with my old mac, and whatever linux box I am playing with at the moment.

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  2. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Performance, or rather “perceived performance” as I like to call it, will always be an issue. I think it’s a matter of knowing your machine’s limitations and not just throw everything at it and expect it to be running fine.

    Is there any OS that is meant to be fit-and-forget? Malware, trojans and any other such software will inevitably make way into the system of someone who doesn’t do regular housecleaning, especially more so for Windows. Like its literal real-world counterpart, Windows require some effort and vigilance to keep it shiny and polished. I’m guessing one of the reasons Apple keeps its OS locked to the hardware is to avoid compatibility and performance problems with the googolplexian combinations of PC hardware found today, which, in my opinion, is the main cause of instability in Windows. It’s impossible to be the one to please everyone.

    A casual user will not care what OS he/she uses. They just want to be able to connect to the web and check email and update facebook statuses. So I interested to see if Chrome OS will break into the mainstream. Due to their web-centric nature, it’s perfect for people like my mum, who only knows to check her yahoo mail, watch youtube videos and post on her relatives’ walls in facebook.

    Being a primary user of Windows, I can say I’ve been able to live with its whims and perversions. I have gone from XP to Vista 64 and now Windows 7 64 on the same PC (albeit with lots of graphics card upgrades), and it hasn’t been giving me any problems that isn’t fixable by a freeware app or a registry hack.

    (Just to avoid the flames of the Linux gurus who frequent your site, can I just say that my 13″ MacBook will arrive, hopefully, on Wednesday?)

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  3. FreeBooteR CANADA Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Take control of your OS then. ARCH is a great example, you can setup your system as lean as you want. Don’t choose Gnome or KDE, choose something lighter like XFCE. You could even build your own kernal and leave out all the bloat in it that you don’t need.

    If that is too complicated go to Distrowatch and peruse through the many distributions available, many of them are light weight OS’s that you are looking for.

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  4. Naum UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS Terminalist says:

    One area where Mac OS X shines far superior than Windows and Linux (though on Linux, it’s mainly due to all the 3rd party library rot). Each OS upgrade usually runs faster on the same hardware (that is, if it’s supported — i.e., trying to run Snow Leopard on a G3…).

    I’ve been basically running the same OS base (on Windows/Linux I used to reformat quite frequently) for 6+ years — ever since Jaguar. Just ordered a new Mac and will make the leap to Snow Leopard.

    Which brings me to another Mac advantage — migrating to a new machine is totally painless, after plugging in a firewire cable from one to the other. Less than 20 minutes later, box + account ready to go, though sometimes some of the developer F/OSS stuff needs some tweaking and twiddling (i.e., Apache, PHP, Ruby, etc.…).

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  5. lefty.crupps UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I’ve got a Debian Testing system with KDE4 running pretty much fine on a Pentium 2 laptop with 192MB of RAM. Its not a speed demon but it runs as I would expect, and it works fine.

    Try moving away from Ubuntu and set up a system on your own.

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  6. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m actually not too concerned about the increasing hardware requirements of newer OS. Microsoft supports XP with security updates up until now and will likely do the same for Vista for 10 years or so, which is far longer than any given computer will likely be used. I think the pricing policy of Microsoft should be a clear hint : you’re not supposed to buy it without a new PC.

    Why is it that people that already own computers feel the need to upgrade their OS anyway ? I’m talking about mainstream people here, not Linux users who go with regular (or not) updates of their chosen distribution, but your average computer user, who someday decides it would be sweet if he had Vista/7 installed, because it says on the box “It’s faster!’.

    Does it improve the situation ? In the event the installation goes smoothly, there’s likely to be some problems as old apps don’t run or crash, and new and useful features can annoy people more than help them. Usually, a good system cleanup gives far better results with much less time involved, provided you know what you’re doing and don’t blindly trust Internet ads of course. And if you really want to speed up your computer, better invest in a decent SSD.

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  7. hdrev MEXICO Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    arch and crux are great alternatives but as you said this are not OS that you install to a common user

    I believe that google chrome would be very good for the common user, but google scares me lol, it monitors what you do on the internet
    but really most of people i dont care. I know that it steals some of your information and i still have 2 gmail accounts plus some other services

    The bad thing is that if chrome starts having any success Microsoft will strike hard, they just need to say that chrome is based on linux
    common users usually freak out when they hear it

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Mart:

    It seems that Google really wants to deliver their OS to the users as preinstaled OEM software and they are targeting the mini-notebook market. This means their systems will just need to work with a range of existing hardware, and they will work with their OEM vendors to develop appropriate drivers.

    Notebooks by their nature are not very upgradeable machines so chances are the laptop will live out it’s life without significant changes in hardware. This means they will have it about as good as Apple with respect to hardware stability.

    It will work out of the box, and that seems to be all that the users really want. And it will boot in approximately 10 seconds which will make it seem faster than it really is.

    @ Naum:

    Windows has a similar feature – the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. Only it’s sort of broken and convoluted on XP.

    @ Zel:

    In my experience the only reason that people want to upgrade to Windows 7 is that they hate Vista so much. Half of that hate is justified, while the rest is plain and simple “they changed it and now it sucks” knee-jerk reaction. They are convinced that Windows 7 will be more like XP used to be which is of course wishful thinking.

    Whenever the IT issues people new machines at work, everyone keeps worrying whether or not they will get stuck with Vista or Windows 7. Most people request the machines to be running XP for as long as it is supported by the organization.

    hdrev wrote:

    The bad thing is that if chrome starts having any success Microsoft will strike hard, they just need to say that chrome is based on linux
    common users usually freak out when they hear it

    Nah… OSX is based on BSD and Microsoft haven’t brought that up yet, despite being trashed by the Mac commercials for years. Why? Cause most people don’t know what BSD is. Or Linux for that matter.

    And if they do, all Google needs to say then is “Yeah, we are using the same kind of stuff Apple does for their OS” and people will immediately assume linux is probably some “user friendly” and “shiny” thing. :P

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  9. ashr Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I want a gaming OS. IE. DirectX & OpenGL and networking and file IO. (and whatever else would be necessary for a game to run)

    I’ll have a different OS for my normal day to day crap, but when I’m in gaming mode i want that machine to be able to use all possible resources for gaming and gaming only.

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