2 minute read

Over the past few decades, software has grown in size and complexity, while efficiency and responsiveness have declined. This troubling trend has far-reaching consequences for users, businesses, and the environment.

One major issue is that software development has been free-riding on continuous hardware improvements, following Moore’s law (ish, don’t be too pedantic). With continued growth in processing power, memory, and storage, there has been no pressure to optimise code and keep software lean. Developers have become accustomed to having near-infinite resources, leading to a culture of wastefulness.

This problem is exacerbated by modern development practices that prioritise developer productivity and time to market over efficiency. Huge dependencies and layers of abstraction hide wasteful resource usage, resulting in bloated, sluggish applications.

Users feel the impact of this trend daily. Basic computing functions often feel slower than they did on hardware that was orders of magnitude less powerful. Software seems to be getting slower more rapidly than hardware gets faster, leading to frustration and lost productivity.

Software inefficiency also has significant environmental consequences. Bloated applications require more powerful hardware, leading to increased energy consumption and shorter device lifespans. The resulting e-waste contributes to environmental degradation, making software efficiency a real consideration in sustainability efforts.

The economic impact of inefficient software is substantial. Businesses and individuals suffer productivity losses when their devices struggle to keep up with demanding applications. The need for frequent hardware upgrades imposes a financial burden, particularly on those with limited resources, creating a digital divide.

Market consolidation and monopolies play a role in perpetuating software inefficiency. Dominant companies may have less incentive to optimise their products, while smaller companies and open-source projects often prioritise efficiency to attract users and maximise limited resources.

Cultural and organisational factors within development teams also contribute to the problem. Short-term thinking, pressure to ship new features quickly, and lack of performance testing and monitoring allow inefficiencies to go unnoticed. Developers may also be incentivised to use bloated frameworks and libraries to speed up development, without considering the long-term performance costs.

Software inefficiency extends beyond individual frustration. Bloated applications can make tasks inaccessible for people with older devices or limited internet connectivity, exacerbating digital inequality and hindering access to essential services and information.

To address these challenges, developers, users, and tech companies must prioritise efficiency and sustainability in software development. This requires a shift in mindset and practices, focusing on long-term outcomes. By setting performance budgets, conducting regular audits, and adopting lightweight architectures, developers can create fast, responsive, and accessible applications.