What does it take to compute?

As tablets begin to overtake desktop and laptop computers as the “go to” piece of hardware for getting a job done, the need for a big OS and big apps falls into question. Case in point, you can shoot HD, edit and upload to your favorite web repository from an iPod Touch, Android phone, Windows Phone, etc. Apple’s latest OS- Lion, pulls liberally from the iOS devices, and Windows 8 is rumored to be a lot like their Windows Phone OS. It is with this background that I checked out how big the apps were in my Mac OS Applications folder, and I was pretty surprised by the results.

I was using Grand Perspective to help me see what was eating up all my hard drive space. As I poked around the cool colored blocks, I because curious about my application folder, so I had Grand Perspective assess just my Apps.

What struck me first is an app I use every day for video editing, Final Cut Pro, is actually smaller than iPhoto, an app that I currently don’t use because it keeps crashing because it can’t find movies it thinks it has. This is not the iPhoto that handles GPS or does facial recognition, this iPhoto is several versions back. This is iPhoto 6 versus Final Cut Pro 6. Amazingly, iPhoto does less, it does it less reliably, and creates a mess of “organization” on my hard drive. Final Cut Pro can handle any video format (save 4k & 5K video) that I throw at it, handle multi-layer video and audio mixing, real-time effects and a whole lot more, and FCP is smaller than iPhoto. Or look at it this way, FCP is designed to process THIRTY 2 MP images very single second, iPhoto only has to show me one at a time, nothing is real-time in iPhoto, and FCP is smaller.

Interestingly, Final Cut Express (which I am using for a client who can’t afford the Final Cut Studio to cut some video but who strongly believed that video had to be cut on a Mac) is clearly smaller than FCP, even though it offers about 80% of the functionality. Apparently, coming out later and getting a good paring down make FCE an even leaner, meaner editor. Then let’s look at iMovie HD (not the current version of iMovie, the source for FCPx) This older version is just a fraction of FCE and FCP, yet handles the same HD formats, renders to Apple Intermediate Codec in the background while capturing from tape, and you never have to stop and wait for a render bar for a transition, effect or title like you do with FCP. In fact, iMovie has never required an editor to stop editing and stare at a progress bar even when it was 1999 and iMovie 1 ran in OS-9 on a fanless G3/400Mhz iMac DV. Real-time background rendering was in our hands before OS-X ever showed up on our doorstep. Yet that processing horsepower is just a fraction of the code of Final Cut Pro? Now I’m curious how big iMovie 1 was compared to FCP-7, which still can’t do background rendering in the “modern” OS-X.

Next, compare Apple’s poorly named Mail program (never, call an app the generic name of what it handles… FCP is not called “Video.” “Mail” would more aptly be called “Mailbox”) to Thunderbird, a free, open source mail program that I am using because Apple’s Mail(box) constantly hangs. The Firefox browser is has less code than Safari, but I think Safari is faster. I use Firefox because Safari wouldn’t handle WordPress authoring pages correctly.

I was stunned that Color, which was originally a multi-thousand dollar app called Final Touch from Silicon Color, is smaller than iChat.  – iChat!-  Again, processing two 4:2:2 simultaneous color space vectors on 2K HD video footage in real time somehow requires less coding than iChat? Or even iCal- Apple’s calendering application? Color was authored elsewhere, bought by Apple, and inserted into Final Cut Studio. An Apple authored calendaring app is bigger. You really have to wonder what all is in these Apple-cations that makes them so big.

One last dichotomy. Apple’s Preview app is the size of Google Earth. Google Earth will pull massive amounts of visual data across the web and process it in real time to allow you to fly around the world and examine nearly any point with minute detail, Preview shows a single photo or PDF at a time. Sure I can do some basic brightness & contrast, sharpening in Preview, but does it really take as much coding and horsepower as Google Earth? Take a look up a little bit and see how small Adobe Photoshop is. This is just CS2 Photoshop, but still, Preview is pretty darn close in size for but a tiny fraction of capability.

Adobe Bridge & Photoshop combined do not equal even half the code of iPhoto. Yet I think few would think iPhoto does more than Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Bridge combined, aside from being connected tot he Apple store to order a photo book.

So I was pretty shocked by the sizes of the apps here. If you’d like to check out your Macintosh app folder, you can download Grand Perspective for free like 500,000 other people have.

It really helps put things in grand perspective (and helped me figure out where all my hard drive space went, and what I need to delete!)

4 thoughts on “What does it take to compute?

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  1. Interesting read.

    I’m not sure your conclusions are completely accurate however. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same version #’s you do to dig into better but here’s what I’m seeing.

    Looking on my system I compared iPhoto 11 to Photoshop CS5.

    Application bundle/folder size:
    iPhoto 277.8 MB
    Photoshop 750.5 MB

    Application bundle:
    iPhoto 277.8MB
    Photoshop 215.9MB

    Digging into the bundle and finding the actual executable which is the product of the compiled code:
    iPhoto: 17.1MB
    Photoshop: 99.8MB

    Photoshop has always been a heavy weight in code and I’d bet previous versions still weighed in quite heavily too. Also, note that 64-bit code (as everything is now compiled for) take more space than 32-bit code.

    The thing is, code doesn’t take a whole of space compared to graphics and other media found in applications. Often, especially in consumer-based apps, it’s the “eye-candy” that takes more space than anything else in an app bundle.

    As to your Preview vs Google Earth argument, Preview has to be able to interpret just about any file format while Google Earth only has to interpret 1. Lot more code involved for Preview (3.9MB worth vs just a few KB for Google Earth though if you include the Google Proprietary frameworks of 2.4MB you’re getting much closer to preview’s size). The resources folder inside the Preview bundle is 31MB. This is where all the pretty graphics you see when running the program reside. Google Earth only uses 4.8 MB. Apple is all about beautiful interfaces. Google really doesn’t care much about how the interface looks.

    1. Well here’s where a bit of the problem lies: Intel code.
      Turns out my Photoshop CS2 (v 9.0.2) install is PPC.
      The iPhoto install is Universal. So there’s more code in there to handle both processors.
      And I agree that all the pretty icons take up space.
      Still, though, when it comes to a Mail app, or a browser, or the other apps… does it need to be that fat?

  2. If I look at the 3 web browsers installed on this machine, the entire package for each is:
    Firefox: 74.4 MB
    Google Chrome: 239 MB
    Safari: 49.6MB

    So in this case, Safari actually wins out in app size.

    Ironically Safari and Chrome come from the same code base yet Chrome is a much larger app package (at least as it currently runs on this machine though this may vary depending on a lot of factors).

    I’m fairly browser agnostic as they all have pluses and minuses about them so I find myself favoring one of these 3 at various times. Normally it’s been chrome as I’ love the unified location/search bar.

    App’s keep getting bigger and bigger. The thing is, I see a trend with Apple to minimize the size of their apps, especially as the iPhone/iPad become increasingly important to the company. The efficiencies and optimizations they’ve done for their mobile platforms is trickling down to everything Apple does.

    You make a good point about the universal apps and that’s something that bloats app size even on Apple’s mobile devices. I just think it’s hard to really judge software based on it’s file size.

    Having done a lot of programming in my past, I know there are lots of trade-offs to app size and quite often on the desktop the actual size of the app is the smallest concern when trying to ship the software out the door. (Mobile can be another story).

    If you really want to talk about bloated software, iTunes is a really good target… It’s a music player yet more and more modules keep getting added to it to now be a hub of everyone’s “i” or digital life.

    Just my 2 cents…

    1. I wish Apple would take that minimization and apply it to OS-X, which seems to keep growing and becoming more encompassing with every version. The interesting thing about iOS is that you don’t even notice the “OS” except when you search or copy/paste. It’s all about what you do in the apps.

      Compare that to OS-X which tries to do everything for you, yet IMHO, just keeps getting slower and more in the way. If it weren’t for CPU’s constantly getting noticeably faster every year, we’d have had an uproar about how much a dog OS-X has become. To wit– today’s core i3, i5 and i7 processors are rockets compared to the Core 2 Duos, but the Mac OS seems no faster than before.

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