President's Message


October 2000


When Microsoft first introduced MS-DOS in 1981, the new operating system took up about 2000 lines of code and fit on two 360K floppy disks. That’s the real “floppies” that you had to load every time you booted up and that always seemed to get stuck in the drive bay. Back then, the purpose of an operating system was to give you a blank screen and a little flashing cursor that took down your commands and translated them into action. You could draft a letter, manipulate data, or crunch some numbers–one at a time. It was up to you to know what needed to be done and how to tell the computer precisely how to do it.

The birth of bloatware

Information processing has come a long way since then. Microsoft’s latest version of its network OS, Windows 2000, takes up 23,000,000 lines of code and 500-700 MB of memory. In 1981 terms, if you had a Cray super computer with a single drive bay, you would have to load about a thousand floppies before running a single application.

The reason you don’t have to buy a super computer and load all those floppies is called Moore’s Law. In 1965, electronics guru and future Intel executive, Gordon Moore calculated recent advances in transistor design and surmised that processing efficiency would double each year for the next decade. Then ten years later, his prediction having been borne out, Moore said future chip doubling capacity would fall to once every two years. So far, this prognosis has also proved true.

The cause and effect is obvious: no need to scrimp on code, because no matter how bloated software becomes, processing capacity can keep up with it.

Enter Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft chief technology officer. Building on Moore’s successful predictions, Myhrvold adds some footnotes and extrapolates the continued growth of computer technology with Nathan’s Four Laws of Software:

I. Software is a gas–it expands to fill the container it is in
II. Software grows until it becomes limited by Moore’s law
III. Software growth makes Moore’s law possible
IV. Software is only limited by human ambition and expectation

Myhrvold’s musings, plus additional thoughts on the future of computer technology can be found at http://research.

Is Moore’s Law immutable? In 1995, Moore pronounced his “Second Law”, stating that future technological progress will be determined by financial realities. In other words, the increased cost of chip making could make progress unaffordable, even if technologically feasible.

Will chip space continue to expand indefinitely? Or will software code grow beyond available memory, reach the limits of development and collapse into a black hole? Will Windows Millennium Edition reach its zenith in the Apocalypse Edition and promptly self destruct, to be succeeded by the next version of Windows NT?

Anything you could do ME can do better

If the chip universe is indeed finite, we will have an opportunity to test its boundaries at our next DACS meeting, October 3, as Microsoft unveils its newest and most ambitious operating system, Millennium Edition. Windows ME brings personal computing to a third dimension that includes image acquisition and manipulation, video and sound editing. If you’ve got the resources to run it, it will transform your PC into an A/V production studio and, with increasingly seamless integration with the World Wide Web, allows you to upload your product directly to the Internet.

But no more peeking. You’ll have to come to the October meeting, and find out the rest from Microsoft.

--Allan Ostergren