Can Linux beat the bloat

Can Linux beat the bloat

Summary: Maybe it's impossible to build something that works on any machine, that works clean, that's scrubbed regularly for bugs, that has enormous amounts of functionality, and doesn't get bloated. A modular architecture can only get you so far.

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Linus Torvalds shocked the crowd (well, the group) at LinuxCon this week with three words.

"Linux is bloated." He added it's even gotten "huge and scary."

(This fat penguin, by Squiggums at DeviantArt, can likely be licensed by the Linux Foundation for a reasonable fee. Just change the fish in the thought bubble to a Microsoft Windows logo.)

Part of the problem here may be just how close Linus himself is to the project. He was there at the beginning, and here he is with something bigger than any conglomerate's Unix ever got. The whole world depends on Linux -- servers, clients, phones. That's got to weigh on a person.

Or it could be nostalgia. I get this way some days driving around Atlanta. I remember when that mall was an empty lot, I see the store where that skyscraper now stands. I remember when the Peachtree Road Race course had just a half-dozen skyscrapers on it, before Elton John and Jane Fonda and the Olympics, back in the 20th century.

Imagine if Bill Gates managed the original Windows project 25 years ago and were still managing that architecture today, with every fix or improvement coming personally past his desk. I get tired just thinking about it.

On the other hand, maybe Linus is right. He's the doctor. Maybe it's impossible to build something that works on any machine, that works clean, that's scrubbed regularly for bugs, that has enormous amounts of functionality, and doesn't get bloated. A modular architecture can only get you so far.

Now it's true that, as our Matt Asay notes, there's Linux and then there's Linux. The Linux that loads onto a Moblin phone bears little resemblance to, say, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. What they have in common is compatibility, a common way of looking at the world, so they can work seamlessly together.

As Linus' personal blog notes, he does take vacations and has a good, happy family life. But has he thought of, like, a sabbatical? Take six months off and chill, do something else, travel, really get away from it for a while? This project is too big to depend on one man at the center -- maybe that's the problem.

So I want to hear from the real Linux geeks out there. Is Linux bloated? Are there things that can be done, from an architectural or development standpoint, to make it less bloated?

Linus sounds tired. Why don't you be the boss for a while?

Topics: Software, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

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109 comments
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  • I think the whole "bloated" thing is hogwash.

    There's no such thing.

    Neither Windows nor Linux are "bloated". Nor is OS/X.

    You want functionality you have to pay for it. One man's lean and mean is another man's anemic.
    Functionality simply isn't free.

    How many lines of code did USB take? How about multi-threading? Which one do you want to give up while slimming down the kernel?

    See what I mean? Everybody wants Linux (or Windows or OS/X) to do what *they* want it to do. MS Office (or any office suite) is the same way.

    Just because *you* don't need True Type Fonts, or an HTML rendering engine doesn't mean somebody else doesn't.

    It's parochialism, pure and simple.

    No such thing as bloated. On the other hand, *limited* is all over the place. Why can't a cell phone have a 10,000 hour battery life and communicate via satellite, with 10GB datalinks? Eh? Oh, and be the size of an iPod Shuffle? And have a theater quality projector built in?

    Likewise, why can't you create Windows (or Linux or OS/X) to do everything it does now in 64k (not meg, kilobytes) of memory?

    Bloated? Don't think so...
    wolf_z
    • Bloat

      How about Installing a the core and add what you need/want problem solved
      saboken@...
      • Doesn't work for the mainstream

        That's exactly what phone manufacturers and DVR makers do.

        But for a general purpose computer that won't fly. The customer doesn't know what they want in advance. Thus the "bloat".

        Which is why I say if you want the ability, pay the (code size) cost and stop complaining about bloat.

        This applies to everybody, of course. :)
        wolf_z
      • Linux kernel is like that. Linus' comments are taken out of context

        Personally I think Linus was alluding to the need for a refactoring of the kernel to include more reuse of code between device drivers.
        (or something like that).

        The Linux kernel has always had loadable device drivers. Very few are actually compiled into the kernel. And the disk footprint of the actual binaries after compilation are pretty darned small.

        Also, Linux distros can run like the wind! I have Ubuntu 9 on a laptop and compared to even Windows XP on the same laptop, it is SO darn fast!

        Personally I think a lot of Linus' problems center around his own decision since day 1 that he cannot therefore question (like the commandment of a king or something) to not have an ABI for drivers.

        If he'd had an ABI or a series of ABIs, then compilation of a driver would be much simpler, and if you had a driver for an XYZ scanner from Linux 1.0, it would still work now.
        But no, Linus doesn't agree.

        Personally I think we'd all be running Linux desktops all the time if he'd made a different decision, and the increased efficiency would have meant we'd all be driving flying cars to mars by now. It's _all_ Linus' fault. And will someone _please_ think of the children.
        stevey_d
      • RE: Can Linux beat the bloat

        This project is too big to depend on one man at the center maybe thats the problem.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
        zakkiromi
      • RE: Can Linux beat the bloat

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        musdahi
  • I think Linus is trying to send a message. Maybe it is not so bad right now

    but, he wants us to be vigilant and really think about
    what gets added.
    DonnieBoy
    • No, he did not say

      that it "will one day become" bloated, he came straight out and said that [i]it is bloated[/i]

      They have allready traveled [b]past[/b] the [i]vigilant[/i] point, and are now at "bloated", claiming it to be something other does not change that fact.

      GuidingLight
      • i blame the guy in charge

        ...
        stevey_d
    • Reading is fundemental

      Try it sometime...
      No_Ax_to_Grind
  • The first step would be identifying the "bloat"

    I'm not exactly sure what Linus is referring to when he talks about "bloat". To me, bloat is doing something in 10 lines of code (say) that could more reasonably be done in 5. But then I usually compile my own kernels so that they don't contain features I'm not interested in anyway.
    Zogg
  • Bloated in the context of what?

    That would suggest that the software kernel modules aren't needed.

    Quite to the contrary--they ARE needed.

    So, it isn't bloat.

    P.S., you can compile Linux with only the modules you want (not something that Windows affords). How's that for bloat?
    D T Schmitz
    • Careful when you say "you".

      As in "you can compile Linux with only the modules you want". Well, perhaps you can but what about all those who can't, can't be bothered, or just don't want to have to do that.
      cornpie
      • And this is why Linux will NEVER replace Windows on the desktop.

        The average user doesn't want to be bothered learning command line syntax, the selection of "modules" to load or not load, or any of the other technical nuances of Linux.

        They want to put a disc in a drive, have the install program make the choices for them...and get on with their lives.

        It's like owning a car. Most people haven't a clue as how to repair a car...and I'd bet that includes the majority of "Techies"...nor should they have to. That's why auto mechanics have jobs.

        So why should the average computer user need to know the inner technical workings of an OS? They shouldn't...period.
        IT_Guy_z
        • Yes, (re)installing windows is lots of fun...

          Users prefer windows because it's so easy to reinstall. It's so easy that most users reinstall it several times a year and they have so much fun that before you know it they are reinstalling it again, and then again, once more.

          That's the reason Linux will never replace windows on the desktop, people want to keep having fun reinstalling windows.
          The Mentalist
          • Hogwash

            You say "most users reinstall it several times a year" ?? Absurdly not true! Why do you make this stuff up?
            Jevans47
          • Yes reality is hard...

            but denial alone won't fix it. I'm not making anything up and YOU know it.

            The sooner you find courage to face reality the better it will for you.
            The Mentalist
          • You give the typical...

            ...response when a BSer is called on his BS. "I know you are, but what am i?" Or even just a "you're apparently not intelligent enough to be in this conversation."

            Silly fanboi.
            FrankleeMiDeer
          • Dorothy, wake up dear. That's a nasty bump on your head...

            And you were there. And you were there.

            [i]I'm not making anything up and YOU know it.[/i]

            I'm using the same machine I've been using for three years. Never once reinstalled Windows. I also work in Desktop Support for a town, and the only time I've ever reinstalled an OS is when a user gets a new PC. We wipe the old one clean and reinstall to ensure no salavageable data remains, and we then donate it to the high school.

            But like you said, "Reality is hard and denial alone won't fix your fantasy of Windows being the problem-laden OS you wish it would be.
            mgp3
          • @FrankleeMiDeer, @mgp3: the talkbacks are a tresure trove

            zdnet talkbacks, what an excellent place to spot hard to find interesting cases to study, stuff I could never find in the lab just seems to be very abundant here.

            Just start revealing a glimpse of the truth about windows and watch them walk into the slaughter house.

            You are invaluable, I could never find anything like you in the lab, any lab.
            The Mentalist