How long do we have to wait?

Some people say computers are a waste of time. And they really, really are.

In 2009, I had a job where my computer was very slow. But also, we were trying to be green (ta, Trish), so we did the right thing and we turned off our computers every night (including monitors). So one day I decided to time how long it took my computer to boot up.

It took 6 minutes.

But not just 6 minutes. It took 6 minutes for the desktop to appear. But with all sorts of autorun systems in the background, it took closer to 9 minutes before Outlook could launch, and I could start being productive.

We all knew our computers were slow, but what could we do about it. Most days there would be people in the kitchen, making coffees as they waited for their computers to start up. The usual thought about this was – well, if only we had new computers.

But would that really do the trick?

It is something I’ve been looking at with most computers I come across. And trying to measure beyond “boot-up” times, but when you can really become productive. And new computers are good mainly because they are empty. After a few weeks off adding your favourite programs they turn to shit – boot-up time wise.

Add to that the time it takes for programs to start. The worst ones are Microsoft office and Adobe programs. Sure they only tale 30 second to a minute, but they are used often in most offices. Are we losing around 5 minutes a day on these things?

(Don’t get me started on Flash websites. Why is your website so important that I have to wait?)

It all adds up. 15 minutes of watching things load a day means over an hour a week. Over 50 hours a year. Multiplied by the hundreds of millions of people who are in similar positions.

But this has always been the case. Computers have always taken ages to start up. Word and Photoshop have built-in launch logos. We are supposed to wait. This is the way it’s always been – but is it the way it always has to be?

If I stuck a modern processor chip into my computer 10 years ago and ran Photoshop 4, it would launch in an instant. If moore’s law is true, my computer is 32 times more powerful that it was 10 years ago.

How can we cut down or eliminate waiting times now?

As with most things in this column, it’s the place where human culture meets technology.

I don’t think (most) computer manufacturers and software writers care about making people wait.

And we as consumers accept it as an artificial given.

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

The idea of “instant on” has started to kick around in the last few years (and standard on the new Macbook air). But it’s more a novel feature than a productivity claim. We need to demand this feature of our hardware manufacturers. Software makers are not even on the map.

I can already hear people say “why can’t you just wait a few minutes?”. Firstly, fuck you. If you think this way you are an idiot. There are a hundred reasons.

Productivity leads to faster advances in our lives. Better ways of communicating. Faster overthrows of dictators! If we can do more faster, then maybe we wouldn’t be so taxing on the environment. But mostly – because we can. Because we have reached this point. Because we were smart enough to invent this, we should be using it.

It seems anti-progress, but if we simply took a break from adding new features for a second and let processors speeds catch up, we could achieve instant-on for almost everything in a year or two.

But instead, developers assume you have to wait about 1 minute or two, they might as well throw features in there until the wait times become unbearable.

How about working on “instant-on” as a feature? I personally would sacrifice new splashy stuff on Word like xhtml crap for a faster loading time.

It’s why I like the App world so much. It is streamlining many features of programs to their essential core. If we can bring that to laptops and desktops, we could cut down the wait. Sadly, in looks like loading screens have been built into many Apps as well.

Computers are doubling in power every two years (according to Moore’s Law). But we are using that speed to pack things on top of existing hardware and software. But we need to go back to the core.

It’s like spending money on a car for a new paint job and speakers but ignoring the engine.

We need to remember why computers were great in the first place. Because they could do things quickly. And there’s no use having a fast computer if it takes you ages to get into it.

I am sick of waiting. In the vast improvements that happen every day, it seems I have always wasted 15 minutes a day just waiting for things to load.

Let’s open up the hood and do something about it.