This article in CNET discusses ways that Microsoft will be optimizing Vista to make computers run like new.

The big ideas?  Background defragmentation and pre-loading commonly used components into memory.

Are you kidding?

I’ve spent years in the PC utilities space and from my experience:  Defragmentation alone doesn’t do the trick and pre-fetching commonly used components won’t do the trick.  Might help but it’s no magic bullet.

In my opinion, defragmentation is largely useless with the speed of today’s hard drives, unless maybe you have a he fragmentated system. To me, the problem has little to with hardware or caching.  The problem has to do with all the junk that people install on their systems. 

Users download smiley icons for their email or some adware program.  Or, they install one of these antivirus suites (aka 10 pounds of crap in a five pound bag) and get an immediate performance hit. 

A billion items in the tray icon are good indicators that the user is on a mission to slow their system down.

Of course, some bloat you just can’t control, like cookie or history bloat.  That’s normal.

A re-architecting of Windows might help, but it’s way too late for that. I admit to being a little nostalgic for the old DOS days, but that’s wishful thinking.

The biggest barrier to Windows operating smoothly is software developers.  I remember when coders would rejoice at saving a few k in memory in a program.  Elegance was in the craftsmanship and artistry of programming (when I was Borland, Philippe Kahn used to refer to it as “software craftsmanship”).  Now, with most of the big software companies outsourcing their stuff offshore with huge teams of programmers working in high level languages—or new programmers entering the workforce who have only really been exposed to VB or C#, you’re going to get bloat. 

So there’s a tradeoff—speed of application development against elegance.  Not all is bad, because fast hardware is so cheap.  

We used to have a joke when I was working in performance utillities. Create a Windows speed booster with a simple mission: It would wipe the drive clean and reainstall Windows.  Performance gains could be guaranteed.

Not a bad idea, after all.

Update: I got an email from a friendly fellow who said that I was unduly criticizing defragmentation — that he notices a slowdown in a week if he doesn’t defrag.  He says I should say defragmentation is “relatively insignificant”

Hmm… I’m a wee skeptical, although I will agree that significantly fragmented systems should see some speed improvement with defragging. See this article from PC World a couple of years ago (“The PC World Test Center’s tests reveal that defraggers don’t actually improve performance. And Steve Gibson, president of PC consulting firm Gibson Research Corporation, confirmed our findings”).

What do you think? Post a comment.

Alex Eckelberry