→ The Web bloat

Maciej Cegłowski, in Web Design: The First 100 Years:

A further symptom of our exponential hangover is bloat. As soon as a system shows signs of performance, developers will add enough abstraction to make it borderline unusable. Software forever remains at the limits of what people will put up with. Developers and designers together create overweight systems in hopes that the hardware will catch up in time and cover their mistakes.

We complained for years that browsers couldn’t do layout and javascript consistently. As soon as that got fixed, we got busy writing libraries that reimplemented the browser within itself, only slower.

It’s 2014, and consider one hot blogging site, Medium. On a late-model computer it takes me ten seconds for a Medium page (which is literally a formatted text file) to load and render. This experience was faster in the sixties.

The web is full of these abuses, extravagant animations and so on, forever a step ahead of the hardware, waiting for it to catch up.

[via Nick Heer]

I urge you to read the full text of Maciej’s talk, because it’s insightful and truly great from beginning to end. (Here’s the YouTube video of the original talk at HOW Interactive Conference in September 2014).

This bloat Maciej talks about is noticeable enough when using relatively current Macs, but especially noticeable with vintage Macs. And I’m not talking about Macs from the 1990s, for which browsing the Web is annoyingly slow, insecure, and overall just a frustrating experience. I’m talking about PowerPC machines from 10 years ago. The general user experience on these Macs is still great when you use first- and third-party software from the same era. I can say from personal experience that in some cases, a G4 or G5 equipped with a fast hard drive and all the RAM it can support, will even feel more responsive than a current Mac (the Finder, for instance, is snappier and doesn’t lag like under Mavericks or Yosemite). Indeed, a PowerPC G4 or G5 Mac at its maximum configuration, and for a variety of tasks, doesn’t feel that old: writing, email, RSS feeds, music and video playing, some photo retouching, even playing some sophisticated games from the period (2003-2005), these are all activities that can be carried out without really feeling you’re using what it’s now considered an obsolete system.

But when it comes to fire up the browser and browse the Web, that is what makes the performance of these vintage Macs drop spectacularly. Try loading Twitter or Medium, or all the most popular tech news sites you follow today. The old Safari, Firefox, Opera and Camino struggle; load times become ridiculous, many webpage elements are not displayed correctly, and sometimes the browser crashes simply for trying to load and play embedded videos or the ‘extravagant animations’ Maciej mentions. As I said previously, the best option to browse the Web securely on a PowerPC Mac today is by using TenFourFox. (By the way, if you don’t like TenFourFox’s icon, I made available an alternate one time ago. The only drawback is that you have to keep pasting it over the default one every time you download an update to the browser.) But to browse the Web at an acceptable speed, resembling somehow the speed the Web had ten years ago, I’ve found that installing AdBlock Plus and keeping it on at all times is the sensible solution.

I insist on using vintage Macs as an example because when some of the Web bloat is removed, the benefits in responsiveness and user experience become immediately and especially evident on these machines.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!