% fortune -ae paul murphy

Hacking the productivity axe

As many of you will remember we had an extensive discussion here last week about my belief that externally imposed work processes ultimately lead to standardised ways of thinking about those work processes. Kind of a Nixonian thing: grab them by their work processes, and pretty soon their hearts and minds will follow.

As usual with stuff like this the discussion showed me both that there are aspects to the issue that I haven't thought about enough, and that I really should try to do a better job of expressing some of these ideas. As luck would have it my muttering to google about this whole work process versus productivity thing turned up an astonishing, tangentially related and probably predictable but certainly entertaining, claim about recent office productivity change.

Specifically, a guy named Hal Licino published a user productivity comparison between a 1986 MacPlus (which was obsolete at the time) and a current generation AMD dual core machine running Windows XP - in which the Mac won on 9 out of 17 tests.

He does the usual hardware/software comparisons -here's a bit to catch the flavor:

The generally recommended configuration for a Mac Plus is System 6.0.8. This is an OS that needs a legitimate minimum of 1 megabyte of RAM to be able to multitask, connect to a network, print, display WYSIWYG in millions of colours (on modular Macs), as well as run a reasonable GUI. Those are functions that usually require at least 500 times more memory under Windows XP and 1,000 times more memory under Windows Vista.

When we look at OS hard disk requirements, we find similar discrepancies. System 6.0.8 requires 1MB, Windows XP requires 1.5GB and Windows Vista 15GB. Yes, Vista needs 15,000 times the hard disk space as System 6.0.8.


The Mac Plus has a Motorola 68000 CPU running at 8MHz. The AMD has an Athlon 64 X2 4800+ with two cores, each running at 2.4GHz. In absolute computing power exclusively measured in processor speed, AMD's combined 4.8GHz is 600 times faster than the Motorola. However, the AMD is a far more advanced processor, thus performs in conventional benchmarks much faster than the old 68000 per Mhz. So it's very safe to say that the AMD is at least 1,000 times faster than the Mac Plus.

His tests are based on actions required within Microsoft Office - things like: "Application Launch, Find & Replace, Open File, Pasting, Saving, Scrolling, Typing and Word Count" for Word and "Application Launch, Arrange Windows, Autoformat, Fill Range, In-Cell Editing, Scroll Vertical, Subtotals and Zoom Out" for Excell.

The Mac won on 9 out of 17 tests - and booted 52 seconds faster than the AMD - but the meat of this thing is in his conclusions:

Is this to say that the Mac Plus is a better computer than the AMD? Of course not. The technological advancements of 21 years have placed modern PCs in a completely different league of varied capacities. But the "User Experience" has not changed much in two decades. Due to bloated code that has to incorporate hundreds of functions that average users don't even know exist, let alone ever utilize, the software companies have weighed down our PCs to effectively neutralize their vast speed advantages. When we compare strictly common, everyday, basic user tasks between the Mac Plus and the AMD we find remarkable similarities in overall speed, thus it can be stated that for the majority of simple office uses, the massive advances in technology in the past two decades have brought zero advance in productivity.

In consonance with the discussion last week, I'd go further and say that the PC evolution whose consequences he describes here has seriously sidetracked productivity growth - and that similar comparisons between today's Vista/Office combination and something like NCR towers running Applix on NCD X-terminals would be even less of a contest with the X-users winning every reasonable test from start-up time to inter-operability, and extending to management issues like cost, reliability, and data storage that don't in apply Licino's comparison.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.