Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, New Relic’s weekly roundup of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and the other issues that influence modern software.
This week, our top story concerns the approaching retirement of Moore’s Law and its potential impact on software developers.
TWiMS Top Story
Smaller, Faster, Cheaper, Over: The Future of Computer Chips—The New York Times
What it’s about: As far as technology predictions go, Moore’s Law has had a darn good run, exceeding even Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s original forecast. Moore’s Law, which holds that the number of transistors that can be put on a computer chip will double every year, celebrated its 50th birthday in 2015, but it’s finally butting up against the laws of physics, according to technologists profiled in a New York Times feature. As Broadcom CTO Henry Samueli told the Times, Moore’s Law isn’t quite dead yet, but it’s eligible for AARP membership. Critically, Moore’s Law’s apparently inevitable retirement has far-reaching implications not just for chipmakers like Intel, but for a wide range of industries, notable including software makers.
Why you should care: The impact of Moore’s Law has been nothing short of revolutionary, delivering decades of increasing computing power at lower and lower costs, spurring all manner of technological innovation. The Times notes that the end of Moore’s Law would reverberate well beyond the actual computer industry, potentially harming innovation in businesses ranging as far afield as auto manufacturing. Specifically, while tending to focus on chip hardware, software developers should be paying close attention. Software makers have benefitted tremendously from the steady increase in computer horsepower predicted by Moore’s Law. Any slowing in that progression would force devs to find new ways to optimize for performance and efficiency.
Of course, the picture’s not all grim. There are potentially revolutionary if unproven technological solutions on the horizon, such as quantum computing. Less than a week after the Times’ story ran, IBM announced a breakthrough in its research division that could help pave the way for replacing silicon transistors with carbon nanotubes, effectively rewriting the limits of Moore’s Law. IBM has made a $3 billion bet on chip research and development as the processing demands of cloud computing, big data, and other trends continue to grow—and as the astonishingly accurate and powerful Moore’s Law may finally be nearing its curtain call.
- IBM Research Breakthrough Paves Way for Post-Silicon Future with Carbon Nanotube Electronics—IBM Newsroom
- IBM Says Its Carbon-Nanotube-Based Chips Can Break Through Limits of Moore’s Law—Fast Company
- IBM’s New Carbon Nanotubes Could Move Chips Beyond Silicon—Wired
Google’s Software Steals Limelight From Hardware at Nexus Event—BloombergBusiness
What it’s about: New Nexus devices might have been the marquee star of the Google event in San Francisco this week, but software stole the show, according to a BloombergBusiness story. Google’s CEO-in-waiting Sundar Pichai and other execs talked up Google’s investment in machine-learning technologies that they believe will help enable Google applications to predict user behavior across their multiple devices and therefore deliver better experiences, bolstered by Google’s vast stores of data. Google also officially announced Marshmallow, Android version 6.0, which includes software-driven features such as App Standby, which automatically limits the battery-life impact of seldom-used apps. But the real scene-stealer might have been Now on Tap, part contextual search and part virtual assistant, which scans text within any screen or app to produce additional information the user may want.
Why you should care: It’s the software, it’s the software, it’s the software. Google’s Nexus event wasn’t a Moore’s Law story, per se, but it shares some common ground: As devices and their components are increasingly commoditized and imitated, the software that powers our phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices is what really matters. Sure, Google has a vested interest in this view, given its longstanding strategy to effectively give Android away to hardware manufacturers. But it underlines the reality that software increasingly trumps hardware. For Google, that appears to mean software that aspires to know you better than you know yourself.
- What Is New with Android Marshmallow?—Mashable
- Google Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X to Run Android Marshmallow: Key Features in the New OS—Firstpost Tech2
- Google Now on Tap Quick Look—Android Authority
What it’s about: Like his cohorts currently remaking how the federal government uses technology, Dhanurjay “DJ” Patil has big ambitions, and he believes the best ideas for realizing those ambitions come from outside the Beltway. Patil, the first U.S. Chief Data Scientist, led the effort behind Data.gov, which serves up 205,475 datasets for public use, and he recently spoke about the government’s data strategy at The Nantucket Project series. TIME’s coverage of Patil’s talk included this highlight: “‘This is literally the most data-driven president we’ve had,’ Patil said, arguing that a data-focused government can ‘responsibly unleash the power of data to benefit America.’”
Why you should care: Patil spoke at length about how good, open data can empower enormous improvements not just to how the government operates but into many areas of daily life, from healthcare to the judicial system to education and more. But Patil also paid attention to the important ethical and legal discussions and challenges that come with managing huge troves of data, much of it personal in nature, to avoid discrimination and other abuses of the power of data and analytics in an increasingly data-driven and automated society.
What it’s about: Re/code reported that Twitter is testing a product that would allow users to post longer-form content unfettered by the site’s famous 140-character limit on text-based messages. Details are still scarce, and there’s no guarantee it will actually happen, but anonymous sources told Re/code it’s been a hot topic inside Twitter meetings rooms for several months, with backing from co-founder and interim CEO Jack Dorsey. That’s especially important because Dorsey’s apparently dropping the interim tag to become the permanent CEO—according to a separate Re/code report. Dorsey will continue to do double-duty as CEO of mobile payments firm Square.
Why you should care: Sometimes you need to change to stay relevant in the rapid-fire world of modern software, even if that means reworking your app’s defining feature. Since going public, Twitter has at times struggled to please investors, and as social media platforms increasingly look simply like, well, media platforms, Twitter’s brevity may be limiting its potential among publishers, advertisers, and other key constituencies, not to mention the site’s general audience. The tandem news of Dorsey’s Jobs-ian return for the long haul is especially important given the significance of the potential change. Major transformation usually goes better when backed by a credible champion. A senior Twitter exec told Re/code: “Having Jack come in and say it’s okay makes all the difference in the world.” With Dorsey firmly back in Twitter’s driver’s seat, even more dramatic changes could be in the works at the company.
- Sources: Jack Dorsey Expected to Be Named Permanent Twitter CEO—Re/code
- Not Everyone’s on Board with Jack Dorsey as Twitter’s Permanent CEO—Quartz
- Square IPO Could Take Hit on IPO with Jack Dorsey Leading Twitter—Reuters
The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites—The New York Times
What it’s about: A New York Times analysis found that more than half of the data load required to visit the home page of 50 top news sites on a mobile device came from ads and other content that would be removed by an ad blocker. That has big implications for application performance: The worst culprit, Boston.com, had an average load time of 30 seconds over a 4G wireless connection, which the Times attributed to video ads. Even sites such as Bleacher Report and Vox, in the middle of the range of the Times analysis, shaved around 5 seconds off their average 6- to 7-second load time when visited with an ad blocker running. From a performance and optimization standpoint, that feels like a lifetime.
Why you should care: The report should stoke even more debate around ad blockers, which Apple recently enabled on its devices with the release of iOS 9. In the bigger picture, it’s a reminder to developers and app owners that performance delays can be a killer. TWiMS has previously mentioned the problem of page bloat—and the need for most Web pages to go on a diet. But ads appear to demand an especially urgent look from the folks who are building them and running them, especially given Apple’s recent shift on ad-blocking apps. By the Times’ math, each megabyte costs a user around $0.01 on the average wireless data plan; visiting the Boston.com home page—just the home page!—every day could cost users $9.50 a month based on the load times found in the performance analysis—if anyone bothered to hang around through all those delays.
From Cory Arcangel to “Pac-Man”: How Digital Art Curators Save Vintage Data and Hardware—Fast Company
What it’s about: Fast Company closes out the week with a fascinating look at a very modern problem: How will museums, collectors, and other stakeholders preserve digital art and other artifacts for future generations? The art world has its tried-and-true methods for preserving, say, a centuries-old fresco. It turns out the code comprising digital art, video games, and other media needs the same kind of TLC to ensure its long-term preservation. It’s no easy task, filled with all sorts of specific challenges. Good luck finding a working Laserdisc player on eBay these days, for instance.
Why you should care: This entertaining yet important story reminds us of the need to continually check the condition of our code and other digital assets, not just in the prime of its life but for potentially much longer terms. The challenges might sound familiar even if you’re not a museum curator: Artists and other stakeholders have only just begun to think through the particulars of digital conservation, and the costs can be prohibitive for smaller organizations working with limited budgets. Preserving digital art and other media poses some unique problems, too: Museum curators might need to become better gamers, for example. As Ben Fino-Radin, digital repository manager for New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, tells Fast Company: “How do you condition-assess a video game if it has 12 levels and it’s really, really hard?”
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