That’s not bloated, that’s clinically obese

For those who asked, the new computer that my friend bought the other day will be running Ubuntu, without the preinstalled XP in place. I did mirror the drive with Clonezilla before installing 9.10, so if there’s an issue it can be flashed back onto the system and returned in an identical state as when it left the store.

I am rather proud of my friend for picking up Ubuntu a year or two ago, and sticking with it over three different machines now. I offered to make a split system, but apparently the one alone was good enough. There are still a few idiosyncrasies — the driver for that ATI card might be flaky, since even with Compiz “turned off” in the appearances menu, there are occasional artifacts from transparent pop-up bubbles (I hate those things) or in some applications, like the Gnome system monitor.

I will check and see if a reinstall is necessary, or if there is some fix for those early Radeon cards that will rid the desktop of scrambled, shadowed windows. It should be fixable.

The biggest surprise (shock?) to me was the stark contrast between performance with only 256Mb of memory, and performance with 512Mb. I tease the Gnome crowd a lot for being chubby, but I didn’t realize that the weight problem had exceeded 256Mb. That’s not overweight, that’s clinical obesity.

I wish I could’ve seen what was going on inside that machine while it was operating under duress. I can’t imagine all the garbage that must’ve been swirling around while it was trying to load, swap, display a desktop, manage a network, and so forth. Putting in another 256Mb stick was an act of pity, not generosity.

But still … a desktop environment that can’t control its own bloat, to the tune of forcing swap with as much as 256Mb on board. …

Quite clearly I’ve been working with machines with no more than 192Mb for too long. And running an entire system on under 20Mb on a daily basis has my perspective skewed. So if you’re a Gnome user and you’re bristling right now, feel free to remind me that my expectations are too far gone to make comparisons. Tell me I need to move out of 1996. Tell me it’s time to look for a real desktop, and not a hacked, whacked arrangement of console programs on a framebuffer screen. Tell me it’s time to face reality.

Ah, who are we kidding? I wouldn’t listen anyway.

53 thoughts on “That’s not bloated, that’s clinically obese

  1. yoshi314

    no, you’re actually right.

    recently there has been a growing trend to to turn desktops into kitchen sinks.

    i don’t work with such low-spec hardware as you. my machine has 1GB ram, but my desktop takes ~80MB of ram (that’s what conky says, at least). the rest is for my apps to use (it’s mostly gcc that takes serious use of that, though ;)).

    generic distros are like that. they tend to add lots of features to target as many users as possible. sadly, it’s to be expected.

    i guess basic gnome desktop would take a bit less ram, but it would be still pretty high.

    i think crunchbang would do better, though.

  2. snek

    With only 256MB of ram Ubuntu with Gnome might not be the ideal thing to run. If Ubuntu is a requirement building the desktop up yourself after doing a clean install from the Alternate installer cd could be a bit lighter, using XFCE or LXDE for example.

    Ubuntu-desktop (as the gnome virtual package is called) is a bit of a hog, true, but Debian with Gnome is already a lot lighter for example.

    Imho I think your friend would be better off with another distro or WM.

    Like mentioned above Crunchbang would be a good choice but also look at Mint Fluxbox and Mepis Antix. All Debian/Ubuntu based.

  3. ajlec2000

    In general I agree with you. My Puppy box is scads faster then my Ubuntu 8.10 box.
    However, you haven’t told us what your friend thinks about this. I am curious to find out.

  4. Zoev

    It seems that both Ubuntu and Gnome seem to grow and grow in size. It’s too bad for the Linux community, because new users are no longer going to be getting the massive performance increase. I agree with what everyone else has said, #! is the best ubuntu-based distro out there. If your friend wants a challenge Slitaz’s new wifi cooking package is great, nothing like using 18.59MB of RAM on startup

  5. hdrev

    just switch WM, as you said gnome is obese, and yet it seems like more obese=more people using it 😦 (kde,gnome, win vista & 7)

  6. MK

    I am becoming a bit weary of you testing DEs on ridiculously low RAM just to make fun of them again and again. What’s so fascinating about it? After all, there is plenty of choice in the GUI field, and isn’t Linux all about choice?

    1. Nugnuts

      Agreed. Obviously, full DEs like Gnome & KDE are designed and have features for a different type of user. They simply provide different and/or more functionality than lighter weight window managers or command line alternatives. That is really not disputable.

      Of course, it is really great to laud low-resource alternatives that can make older or less robust hardware comparably functional. But it is really fallacy to write off the additional functionality and features in full DEs as “bloat” or “obesity”. If you have no need for these additions, or find that there is really no enhancement to your particular work flow, cool. But that does not mean they are completely superfluous–just, perhaps, superfluous to you.

  7. moonpappy

    #!Crunchbang rocks! 9 tabs open on Firefox and transmission working 4 torrents and 220 MB ram being used. The highest usage I’ve seen was 600 MB and that was wih my trying to load it down with video encodes, unrar processing, music playing, several browsers – you get the idea. Good thing I have 2 gigs ‘o ram!

  8. tonybaldwin

    Gnome or KDE are bloated, spinning, nauseating eye-candy, and, if you know how to use a computer, they are just a huge waste of system resources.
    That’s why I use wmii (
    It manages windows, and otherwise stays out of the way.
    If I didn’t prefer a tiling wm, I would probably just run openbox, but without additional DE components (ie. LXDE, or any panels), which I have done.
    I know…most users want a desktop environment that holds their hand for them. The thing is, I feel that all the hand-holding just gets in my way. Some day it becomes time to grow up and walk on your own, without the handholding.
    I have a laptop, and old IBM a21m, with 750mhz pentium III and only 512mb ram, running Ubuntu Jaunty, but with wmii, it runs great.
    My desktop is debian/lenny, celeron 3.2ghz with 1.5gb ram, and lightning fast running wmii for the window manager.
    Desktop Environments are for babies that don’t know how to walk on their own.

  9. Adam Williamson

    If you like “a hacked, whacked arrangement of console programs on a framebuffer screen” then by all means, use it. Everyone should use what works well for them, that’s great.

    What I don’t understand is why you should complain when something which in no way claims to _be_ such a hacked, whacked arrangement…is not one. That seems like everything is exactly the way it ought to be, to me. =)

    For what GNOME actually does, its memory requirements aren’t that terrible. If you don’t need all the stuff GNOME does and you have limited resources, certainly use something else, that seems logical.

  10. anonymous coward

    I’m glad I discarded the first few drafts of this reply. That doesn’t mean this one is better, though… πŸ˜‰

    Why people don’t get that there are other people out there who are different is beyond me. =)

    I, personally, am a tinkerer and I do appreciate people who do tedious comparisons and benchmarks just for the fun of it. I used to count CPU cycles and hunt for unnecessary bytes wasted in the olden days myself and I do see a general waste of resources creeping in for one reason or another. And I don’t like it very much.

    But I’m glad it’s all free software or open source, at least.

    One final remark: There seems to come up a demand for low-spec devices every now and then. Like 1st generation netbooks or smartphones. One can never know what will be needed in a few years time. Think of IPv6 finally getting deployed everywhere. There might be a need for X and Gnome for those fancy new medical devices inside your body awaiting ssh -X sessions. Or KDE SC thingies. Might depend on which DE wins over the other. Might be Gnome because someone said something with regards to bloat/obesity, who knows… πŸ˜‰

  11. Pingback: Links 15/3/2010: CrossOver Linux, Tim Bray Joins Google | Boycott Novell

  12. BenderBendingRodriguez

    Why anyone says KDE or Gnome is bloated? I am using Gentoo with KDE 4.4 and at start it is using about 90MB of memory, that is not bloated and i do not miss any bit of functionality (unless i turn on nepomuk it eats 110MB of memory). The reason they are bloated as someone mentioned is the desire to satisfy everyone so they need to pack the distro with some python scripts, with some services that are popular etc.

    If people knew how to trim the fatt they all wouldn’t need more than 1GM of ram (or even less as you are guys proving πŸ˜‰ )

    At least open source model of computing allows us to get rid of the stuff we don’t need and use only what we want. That’s the real freedom.

  13. Michael

    Ubuntu in particular seems to be big these days. Even using XFCE4 it will barely operate with 256MB. But it isn’t alone, they’re all a bit crappy. Oh, and they take considerably more CPU grunt to do the same work compared to prior iterations too.

    I think what people are missing here is WHY should it take so much memory to do so little? It’s not like the basic functionality is that much enhanced over a 10 year old unix system (the biggest improvement is probably fonts, and having media auto-mount – and it can’t even do that reliably).

    A couple of ideas:
    – ever-expanding features mean basic resident sets of each library is naturally getting bigger over time
    – ever-expanding development base means that more libraries are being used over time
    – shared library versions meaning sometimes multiple versions of the same library are being used over time
    – increased use of scripting or other virtual-machine languages for session-long or critical applications, which often use orders of magnitude more memory than compiled languages. Try running ‘yum’ on a machine with 256MB, let alone any GUI frontend for it.
    – increased use of scripting languages that allow less experienced programmers to produce useful applications, but often without regard to footprint or performance (if they even have control over it)
    – more and more stuff on client-end rather than in kernel or server, basically because the kernel/server end can’t compete with easily written application libraries so functionality gets replaced. e.g. client side font rendering means every client loads/processes it’s own fonts. e.g. potentially multiple sound daemons running.
    – tendency to want to include ‘actively developed’ products rather than otherwise, which means often stable/mature products are replaced with ‘actively developed’ unstable/immature ones every 6-12 months – usually more bloat, more instability.
    – xml and dom – e.g. converting in-memory data structures to lists of strings, not a naturally efficient mechanism for data-processing machines.

    GNU/Linux is a victim of it’s own success. It’s open architecture means it’s open to more people to mess it up, and the more people interested in it, the more they will. There’s more than one reason Android took linux and threw away all of the user-land stuff – no need for 2 versions of every library and 5 different alternative toolkits. Its not about the applications, it’s about the n-friggan-frameworks they all use which raises the basic ‘operating system’ size so much.

    At this point I believe it is simply a lost cause – it will need an Android, a Haiku, or similar to throw away all this ‘choice’ to ever deliver a platform focused on users.

    (although i think hardware has finally caught up with software – at least desktop hardware is ok, but then again there’s these new low power devices …)

    1. BenderBendingRodriguez

      I couldn’t have said that better.

      BTW, i always thought that some tools written in Python or any other scripting language would be later rewritten in a lower level language but i was mistaken πŸ™‚

      GNU/Linux lacks one thing (corporate like):

      common applications writing “style” meaning that all should bow to some rules and not like it is now freedom == chaos…

    2. mulenmar

      Sounds like some people are predisposed to using FreeBSD. πŸ˜‰

      Oh, if only Linus had never allowed propritary junk into his kernel . . . more hardware companies would open their specs, and both Linux and the BSD kernel would benefit.

  14. steve

    Debian + openbox = ~40MB

    Debian + XFCE = ~70MB

    I think Ubuntu comes with more stuff because it is trying to be more things to more people. If you know what you want and how to get it, there are better distros out there. Ubuntu is good for n00bs, I used it for 6 months to get my feet wet with Linux and it taught me a lot.

  15. apexwm

    Unfortunately Gnome is in fact getting bloated. Just check your process list and see how many Gnome-spawned processes are running. There are a lot, and they take up a lot of memory. Granted, the Gnome environment is a great one, but I too wish it was not such a memory hog. Now that the newer installations are done in Gnome environments, you cannot even install distributions like Fedora 12 on a machine with 256 MB RAM. So now I might have to throw out old Pentium II boxes that would make perfectly suitable firewalls. I did find a workaround though by taking the drive, putting it into a machine with 512 MB, installing Fedora 12 and putting the disk back into the PC with 256 MB RAM. The ironic part is it ran Gnome with 256 MB. Slow, but it works.

  16. Marco Craveiro

    Whilst I don’t think Gnome/KDE should run on 20 megs of RAM, I think its _really_ important to have a modern desktop running on 512 MB confortably. This, to me, means a web browser with 5 or 6 tabs, office application (one instance say), music player, IM and a file browser.

    Now you may laugh at me and say “no one has 512 MB of memory anymore!” but I think you’d be missing the point; we all want the prices of netbooks and laptops to come crashing down without any loss of functionality. Just to give you an example, I use my NC10 to do all of the above, as well as run a small postgres database and use emacs for development. It has 1 GB of RAM. I think you’d be hard pressed to start Visual Studio Express on the same machine, let alone SQLServer. This for me is a major selling point of Linux.

    In addition, there’s also all those millions of people in the developing world who only have access to low spec hardware. The digital divide can only be broken with truly universal software, IMHO.

    Also, I don’t think features mandatorily mean bloat – the first iterations may mean massive bloat, true; but then, its posts like this that force people to look again and see where all the memory/cpu/IO/etc has gone. A lot of times its just a case of programmers not thinking at all about efficiency, and in many cases this can be corrected. I recall EDS taking 200 MB when it first came out, I was shocked! same for tracker. But these days both applications behave a lot better (if tracker is still a bit of a CPU hog in karmic).

    So to make a long rant short, I think its very important to keep tabs on Gnome/KDE and force developers to justify every memory increase. Ideally we should have some automated “bloat detection” a la phoronix.

    1. Nugnuts

      “I don’t think features mandatorily mean bloat”

      They don’t. That’s essentially my point with my comment above. Practically all software can be optimized beyond whatever state it’s in, but the issue as I see it with much of the discussion here is that “features” and “bloat” are being conflated. It makes sense for a user like K.Mandla to conflate the two, because many of those features are indeed superfluous to such a user.

      However, I think it’s unfortunate and unnecessary to so frequently use such disparaging language (e.g., “all the garbage … swirling around”) when really one is simply talking about software written for purposes other than one’s own.

      I suppose it would be similar to complaining about Photoshop being “obese” and requiring 512MB ram minimum to run when all you are after is an image viewer.

  17. ilikejam

    The Phoronix figures for memory look a bit high to me. My fairly default Fedora 12/Gnome netbook only uses about 110MB once the system’s fully booted and idle. I’ve switched some init services off, but nothing that would take me up to those sorts of figures.


  18. Niki Kovacs

    GNOME on my CentOS 5.4 install “weighs” around 75 MB after starting the desktop. I have another quite minimal GNOME desktop on a Debian stable install, eating roughly the same amount of RAM.

    Similarly, XFCE on Slackware takes around 50 MB without any applications started, compared to 250 on Xubuntu.

    The problem here lies with some african word meaning “I am what I am because I can’t configure my daemons running in the background”.


  19. Nirvan

    “I tease the Gnome crowd a lot for being chubby”

    That’s like the attitude of a pimple-faced teenager who calls girls fat as soon as they reject him.

  20. SamD

    The real point of all this discussion is that there are distributions which are meant for today’s desktops and there are distributions which will run comfortably on my 10-year old Sony Vaio.

    Pick a distro that suits the hardware you have available. For older machines with less memory, try Puppy, Damn Small, Mint LXDE, or CrunchBang. For the 1GB+ memory boxes, the sky is the limit. That said, my 8GB desktop is faster running LXDE than it is with Gnome, as it should be. I still prefer Gnome for the extra features it gives me, at the cost of some speed.

    Feature growth and distro bloat are not new problems, and it’s unlikely that it will stop. Speaking as a programmer and manager of programmers, it’s the nature of the beast to take advantage of all the resources available, even if it’s not really necessary. The only way to get small, highly efficient, fast code is to plan and program that way, and most programmers won’t do that unless they’re forced to.

  21. asmiller-ke6seh

    Even Puppy linux is a memory hog.

    I used to operate an entire application environment in 64K of RAM, with a 128K floppy drive.

    But, truly — even a $200 netbook now comes with 1Gb of RAM. Yes, catch up with the 21st Century.

    Oh, and if you still want a really small memory footprint, I still have an old Xerox 820 with its Zilog Z-80 processor and CP/M 2.0 operating system somehwere in my dad’s basement.

  22. JT

    On a peripheral point: I think the rendering issue with “bubbles” is an xorg core issue, at least that’s the response I got from the KDE maintainers after reporting a similar problem seen in 2 distros (Kubuntu & Pardus) and 3 X drivers (Nvidia, Nouveau & Openchrome).

  23. Forever Archer

    May i recommend Pardus? or if you’re in the spartan way , probably Arch LinuX + Openbox? or is it too minimalist?

  24. Morley

    I use Gnome (Ubuntu 9.10) on my desktop with all the Compiz bells and whistles, because the machine can handle it, and run beautifully. On my netbook, I use Crunchbang, which only uses ~50 MB of RAM after booting up. So I guess it depends on the hardware … run what the machine can deal with … if you want to game, have super effects, run 20 applications at once … don’t expect that out of a low powered rig. I have used half a dozen windows managers pretty extensively, and they have different features for different reasons. Good article though, and I have a feeling you must hate KDE 4.4!

  25. wally

    I don’t really agree with the assertions. I ran on an old AMD K6 300 until about 3 years ago, when I moved to a friend’s old Pentium3-1000. Both had 384 Mb. There was a noticeable speed difference, but certainly not night and day. Six months ago I put together a nice Intel i5 with 4 Gb. Again, faster, but not so much that I say I was astounded.

    I ran the latest and greatest Ubuntu on all of them. The question depends very much on what you are doing on the machine at any time. Web browsing? Very little speed difference. Unzipping files? Quite a difference. Running a 3D modeling program? Can’t practically do it on the older machines. None of these things has anything to do with the Gnome ‘bloat’ question.

  26. Zoev

    it’s not even desktop managers. Distros such as Slitaz use less than 20MB of RAM after boot. That is still quite alot, but still less than other LXDE distros. It all has to do with the availble space. The Slitaz dev team promised to never exceed a 30MB live CD .iso so they are forced to work with fewer resources, they are forced to make every line of code count, so in the end they are rolling out one great distro.
    Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series really hits hard on the “limited resources, exceptional technology” idea

  27. GreyGeek

    I frequently read blogs and posts making the assertion that GNOME and KDE4 are “bloated”. This claim is total nonsense.

    It implies that there are functions (methods and properties) in the sources which are either ancient cruft (legacy code) which serves no purpose and that such code is carried into the binary, making it “bigger” than necessary. Today’s optimizing compilers do not compile into the resulting binary any source which is unused, just like it does not compile into the binary comments which are in the source.

    The other implication is that the latest versions of GNOME and KDE4 contain features (eye candy or other capabilities) which no body uses, which is also total nonsense. Such features arrive in the binary by popular demand. There are over 4,000 “wishes” in the KDE4 wishlist. The top vote getters usually make it into the desktop. IF users of KDE4 didn’t want the “copy to” or “move to” options in the right mouse dialog of Dolphin those options wouldn’t be there. If they do not enable that feature it does not mean the feature is bloat. MANY OTHERS, my self included, do enjoy the benefits of “copy to”/”move to”. While you or I may not use or appreciate a certain feature of GNOME or KDE4 that does not mean that no one else does either.

    Trolltech created Qt over a decade ago. Over the years new hardware and ideas in coding required more than what Qt3 could supply without extensive modifications. They weighed the possibility of adding the new technology to the Qt3 API or starting fresh with a new API, leaving the legacy code behind. Starting fresh won out SPECIFICALLY to avoid the complications of adding new features to old, outmoded programming models, and thus avoiding cruft. This is why they could not, and did not, build KDE4 on top of KDE 3.5. It was a wish choice.

    The coding paradigm shift between Qt3 and Qt4 is significant. Besides Qt4 having significantly more power and capability than Qt3, I found it a LOT easier to write applications with Qt4 than with Qt3. With the release of QtCreator under the GPL & LGPL using Qt4 & QtCreator is significantly easier than using Qt4 & MSVSC++, and faster, too.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that these reoccurring “bloat” posts are either the output of some MS “Technical Evangelists” spreading anti-Linux FUD, or a Linux geek wannabe. IF the wannabes really want to cart their cojones around in a wheelbarrow for all to see and admire, let them write posts about how they abstain totally from “bloat” and run Linux only on a CLI and still get more work done, and faster, than someone with equal skills using GNOME or KDE4.

    1. mulenmar

      “IF the wannabes really want to cart their cojones around in a wheelbarrow for all to see and admire, let them write posts about how they abstain totally from β€œbloat” and run Linux only on a CLI and still get more work done, and faster, than someone with equal skills using GNOME or KDE4.”

      Try reading the rest of the blog, K.Mandla uses CLI-only enviroments on a 120MHz laptop on a regular basis.

    2. Sertse

      Indeed, that’s the funniest comment made on this blog, which is probably known as *the* reference for minimalist computing. You’re dealing with the real thing here, no inconsistency.

  28. Pingback: A clarification: Gnome on Arch « Motho ke motho ka botho

  29. Pingback: Build a lighter Gnome in Ubuntu « Motho ke motho ka botho

  30. Pingback: Greetings from Slitaz 3.0 « Motho ke motho ka botho

  31. Pingback: State of the Bloat « Inane Bits

  32. Pingback: Another one-disk wonder: DexOS « Motho ke motho ka botho

  33. Pingback: Crunchbang and Archbang « Motho ke motho ka botho

  34. tonyMac

    Honestly anyone here trying to defend the ridiculousness of modern software bloat has completely, utterly, and inexcusably missed the point.

    The point isn’t really “I want to run my OS on a machine with 256 MB of RAM. The point is, no matter how awesomely complicated your feature set is, there is no viable excuse for any software to use that kind of space. It is, quite simply, bad programming.

    If I have 2 GB of RAM, my operating system, at idle, should not be using 1/8th of my system resources to do basic tasks. If you were to graph the increase in bloat versus the increase in functionality in systems over the past 20 years, it’s exponential. On a good day. Adding a feature that saves me 1/10th of a second over a 2 week period is not worth 10 MB.

    The issue is philosophical. Anyone who says “Well, we have plenty of memory, so who cares”, is a root cause of the issue at hand. If I buy RAM, it should be to satisfy killer applications, not to satisfy my overweight and unimpressive window manager. The basic approach to writing efficient and compact software is to approach each algorithm and solution as though it has next to no resources available. Look at 1995, and look at today. We have a handful of new hardware capabilities. Primarily everything is bigger. But really, honestly, is it capable of that much more at the end-user level? I could browse the web and edit documents simultaneously, and instant message, on a 500 MHz celeron with 64 MB of SHARED RAM. Since this was before tabbed browsing, I’d have 6-10 windows of netscape/ie running. What can I do on today’s computer? Same thing, but it’s taking a lot more memory for a marginally superior experience.

    Extra resources yield lazy, angry, defensive programmers. I’m a coder, I do my job on embedded systems. Desktop environments have to be the most wasteful and poorly constructed things I’ve ever seen.

  35. Pingback: It’s the fat that makes you look fat « Motho ke motho ka botho

  36. Pingback: Not particularly worried « Motho ke motho ka botho

  37. Pingback: 8.04 might be your best bet « Motho ke motho ka botho

  38. Pingback: Five distros for “fast” machines « Motho ke motho ka botho

  39. bgbraithwaite

    K.Mandla, I won’t argue that DEs (and indeed, pretty much all software in general for every OS and architecture) are not bloated. They probably are quite bloated. My dad used to use a Kaypro-10 (which he still has, by the way) for his word processing needs, and WordStar actually had better features in many respects than, say, the WordPerfect office suite he uses now.

    The issue isn’t “bloat”, whether factual or perceptual. It’s about how humans work: we derive most of the information about our environment visually. Most (average) people want and need high-quality visuals to respond to and interact with.

    If “bloat” allows the human to work more effectively, then I’m all for it. If it detracts from their ability to work, then get rid of it. Sure, Linux systems are way more bloated than they were in 2003 (when I first ran across Linux in the wild), but they are infinitely more usable for the average schmo, too.

    Also, having “human-centric” bloat available alongside your more minimal (or is it maximal?) computing style means that people are able to choose a learning curve most suited to them. Ubuntu’s default desktop is not good for you, either hardware-wise or software-wise, but it may be perfect for a new hacker, or for grandma, or for a new company that needs to have a cheap and usable computer environment right away. It’s all relative to the user’s needs.

  40. Pingback: Reports from the home counties « Motho ke motho ka botho

  41. Pingback: A reasonable investment or two « Motho ke motho ka botho

  42. Pingback: Bloat is in the eye of the beholder « Motho ke motho ka botho

  43. Pingback: Look out Ubuntu, look out Arch: Linux Mint Debian « Motho ke motho ka botho

  44. Pingback: It works, but it’s not what I use « Motho ke motho ka botho

  45. Pingback: Squeeze Me « Linux Expresso

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s