Negroponte: 'Software is too fat'

LinuxWorld: Bloated software is a growing menace and Linux is no exception, says the founder of the One Laptop Per Child project

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the One Laptop Per Child project, criticised the software industry on Tuesday for creating ever-more-bloated software, which runs slower despite dramatic improvements in processor speed.

"We've gotten to a point where, in my opinion, every single new release of software is distinctly worse than the previous one. I just got the fastest laptop on the planet, it is the slowest, most unreliable machine I have had in my life," Negroponte said, in a keynote speech at the LinuxWorld conference in Boston.

Adding too many features without considering the impact on efficiency is the main reason, according to Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Laboratory.

"A fat person uses most of their energy to move the fat," he said, as an analogy.

He claimed that he had been joking for years that every time Intel releases a faster chip, the latest release of Windows uses a greater proportion of the total processing power.

"Fifteen or twenty years ago I used to joke, you know what, every time Andy [Grove] makes a faster processor, Bill [Gates] uses more of it," said Negroponte.

But the open source operating system Linux, which is touted by vendors as more efficient than Microsoft Windows, is no different, he claimed. "And Linux is no exception — Linux has gotten fat too," he said.

The One Laptop Per Child project, which plans to provide affordable laptops to millions of children in developing countries, is tailoring Linux for the project to allow it to run on a lower-specification machine.

Red Hat is leading this development. Mike Evans, Red Hat's vice-president of corporate development, told ZDNet UK in February that the project will help to drive the take-up of Linux in countries such as the US, as well as in the developing world.

Negroponte called on the conference attendees to focus on writing more efficient software.

"If there's anything you take away today, it is to rethink how systems can be simpler and faster," he said. "People just aren't thinking about small, fast, thin systems. It's not about a weak computer — it's about a slim, trim, fast computer."

The One Laptop Per Child project is planning to complete the prototypes of the laptops in the third quarter of 2006, and is hoping they will start appearing in schools in December 2006 or January 2007. The laptops will cost around $135 in 2007, but the cost is expected to fall to $100 in 2008 and to $50 in 2010, according to Negroponte.