On Programming: The Best Epigram on the Slowness of Software I Have Yet Heard

Some software programs are slow, dreadfully so.

Booting up Vista is a case in point. I recall that booting up a Xerox “star” workstation could take over twenty minutes. Early versions of IBM’s risc system running AIX were also as slow as molasses. [1]

Steve Johnson is the author of the following comment about an IBM operating system:

“Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale down the beach.”

My own candidate is due to Jay Earley. During one day in the early 70’s he spoke on his work as part of a small team that had created a timesharing system that was developed at Berkeley. He said the system response time had been very slow, and that much work had gone into improving it. The response time is the interval between entering a command and getting some kind of response from the system.

“Jay Earley: We halved the response time every week for six months, and the system was STILL too slow to be usable.”

Jay is best known as the creator of the “nodal spans” parsing algorithm.

During my years with Jack Schwartz he gave high praise to only a few algorithms. Whenever we discussed parsing, he would always mention nodal spans, though I can’t recall his exact words.

Jay left computing a few years later to pursue a career in another field.


1. I once read every issue of Reader’s Digest published from 1917 to about 1958. My favorite article was about the bursting of a giant tank filled with molasses that flooded several blocks of downtown Boston.

One Comment

  1. Posted May 7, 2009 at 14:56 | Permalink | Reply


    You have it backwards, computer programs are NOT “too slow”, it is the pace of modern life that is “too fast”

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