Worse than slow

Computers used to be slow*.

Now they’re unresponsive. 

Computer boffins have a word for it: latency. This is the delay between doing something (clicking the Submit button) and getting a response (‘Thanks for your order’).

Latency can interrupt your flow of thought. Did I click the button? Is that link broken or did I just not click it properly?

Latency can wreck your day.  You press the Submit button twice (because it didn’t seem to work the first time) and your comment is posted twice, or you wind up with two sets of tickets to the same event. This can cause real problems for computer engineers: people press Submit buttons again and again and again, each time sending a new request to the website computer, thereby creating a lot more load than anticipated.

Mobile devices are worse, even at the top end: browsing the Web on a Blackberry or Nokia N95 can be soul destroying.

People often complain that their computer is ‘getting slow’. What they mean is that latency is getting worse. Usually this is either because they got viruses from dodgy websites, or they installed one or more virus checkers and ticked lots of options. An excess of anti-virus software can feel a lot like a virus.

This is where software like Firefox 3 and Google Chrome is getting it right. You click on a New Tab icon and a new browser tab appears. Press the Close icon (the X at the top right of the window) and the application window closes. No delay! Not like some browsers…

Best of all will be the ‘instant on’ operating systems like Splashtop, which start up in seconds and have browser software built in. 

The death of latency will make the world a happier place.


* And if you think slow means 56K, spare a thought for how it was in the olden days. In 1974 at Eudunda Area School in rural South Australia, we marked up computer punchcards with a pencil, eight characters per card, put the cards together with a rubber band and gave them to the teacher — who then, hopefully, parcelled up the cards, took the parcel to the post office, and sent it to a computer centre in Adelaide. There the cards would sit until some charitable person granted them processing time. Two weeks later a huge bag of gatefold printout would be returned to the teacher. Then you’d discover you’d marked up the wrong character in one column, or got the order of cards wrong, or — if you were lucky — just made a syntax error. Then the whole process would begin again… Hello World took me three months.
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About Sam Dutton

I am a Developer Advocate for Google Chrome. I grew up in rural South Australia, went to university in Sydney, and have lived since 1986 in London, England. Twitter: @SW12
This entry was posted in Google Chrome, Usability, Windows and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Worse than slow

  1. uxarchitecture says:

    I was there Sam, my first day at IBM I was introduced to the model 029 card punch. Seriously though, you make a good point about response time. Web-based solutions routinely deliver transaction times that would have been considered unacceptable on mainframe teleprocessing.

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