Need for speed

It was the year 1995. I was in the hospital bed reading The Economic Times. My attention turned to a feature about a very young man called Marc Andreessen who became an overnight millionaire when his company Netscape went public. Marc Andreessen had co-developed a browser called Mosaic which was the first widely used web browser, and the precursor toward the highly successful Netscape Navigator. The internet was still in its nascent stage and Netscape Navigator was the first web browser for many people. Microsoft was alarmed and they soon developed (and bundled it with Windows) the Internet Explorer.

In those days, computer memory or RAM as we call it was measured in MBs rather than in GBs. A computer running Windows 98 with 64 or 128 MB of RAM was powerful enough in terms of speed. Then came Windows XP. I remember I had to upgrade my PC and when I did, I had chosen a computer with a clock speed of 1.4 GHz with 128 MB of RAM running Windows XP. It had an antivirus running in the background as well as a firewall. It was so fast that I do not remember any difference in speed with the computers we use today that boasts of a few gigabytes (GB) of RAM inside it.

In the good old days of Windows 98 and Windows XP, every computer magazine or journal were abuzz with predictions that hardware improvement is happening so fast that it will take some time for software developers to write code that takes full use of the hardware that is rapidly coming across. Fast forward to the present time, were we see a scenario where we are connected to the internet and the computer we use demands more and more of memory, no matter how many GBs of RAM are already installed.

Does it mean that the software engineers have found out ways to write code that utilizes the RAM our current systems have? Hmm. Only partially. For me, in modern systems the biggest memory hog is the browser we use. Netscape Navigator has shut down and Internet Explorer is on the way out. The top two browsers for Windows-based PCs are Chrome and Firefox.

Check this out for yourself. Just open a couple of tabs in your browser and press Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Choose ‘Start Task Manager’ from the options and click on ‘Processes’. You can see the huge difference between the memory the browser uses and the memory that is being used by other applications.

Modern browsers suffer from “memory leak” among other challenges i.e. when we close a tab, the tab gets closed but it still may hog memory in the background. If your system is low on memory, restarting the browser will solve the issue for the time being.

I wish if someone develops a browser that is fast, resource-friendly, and secure. I am not a geek, but I still use a text-only browser called Lynx which takes only a couple of MBs from my data plan even after hours of usage.


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