Place Your Bets

Matt Neuburg had a great piece that drew a lot of attention recently titled Lion Is a Quitter. Neuburg argues persuasively that the auto-termination behaviour of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is inconsistent, unreliable and poorly integrated with the user interface and, worse, runs counter to user expectations. I agree, the situation as it stands is less than desirable and in a few ways it is simply broken. Neuburg is right.

It doesn’t matter. Many complained, correctly, that window resizing was unreasonably slow on early versions of Mac OS X. Auto-Termination is similarly as clumsy in 10.7. It mostly works but there are usability issues that remain which taint the experience.

The argument for manually managing which applications are running and which aren’t comes down to the conceit that the operator knows what’s best for the machine. The people that feel this way will say they understand how various processes are effecting their CPU, RAM and even page-in & page-out usage. They believe they’re capable of knowing which processes are most negatively effecting their machines and terminating them as required.

If this doesn’t sound familiar to you then I suggest you Google for “config.sys”, “autoexec.bat” and “how the fuck did Mac OS ever work with all those crazy extensions?”. The answer is not, and will increasingly never be, to give the user more control over the processes that are active on a given device. Consider all the factors involved in a modern user-facing process. Can you know which ones are putting the most pressure on the system? You may guess, based upon your last assessment of hard drive, RAM and GPU engagement, but you can’t be sure. There’s one thing I’m sure you don’t know — which process has consumed the most power?

That’s where best bets lie — power consumption. CPU, GPU, RAM and internal bandwidth all keep increasing. Battery life isn’t keeping pace. The best bet given the projections of how the technology we use in computers today is going to go is to make plans to preserve battery life, bank on video and CPU memory and bandwidth, and bet that persistent storage write and read speeds will continue to improve.

The vast majority of the products Apple sells are not tethered to a power supply except when they need to recharge. Power consumption is the key issue going forward. Applications that can be killed as needed, and that includes App Store granted entitlements, can be better governed, better understood and better planned for by the operating system.

The next battle-field will be the ability to leverage battery life. Apple is betting on that now just as it bet on GPU memory and bandwidth back when it first ran with Quartz.

If you’re not yet thinking of power-conservation as being the next big thing in personal technology then I implore you to do so. Yes, patents are murderous, mind-numbing and progress-dulling. But they’re also old-news. Batteries, power-usage and ways to balance them, that’s what’ll count.

Oh, and the patent that covers that will be worth a fortune too.