Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fear Not The Buffer Bloat (Nerd Alert)

Kevin Drums digs up this blog post from Bob Cringley about "bufferbloat", who alleges that Windows 7, OS X, and other fancy new technologies are going to destroy the Internet by inadvertently causing logjams at various points between, say, your Xbox 360 that streams Netlix content and the actual Netflix content. We're going to take a brief digression from policy and politics to talk a little bit about the fact that yes, Virginia, the Internet is getting faster, and Win7/OSX won't destroy it. This is a long and drawn-out story, but there are two main components to it. 
  1. Web browsing feels slower because web pages today are doing much, much more than web pages as little as five or ten years ago.
  2. The protocols governing the transfer of data across the internet were designed, as Cringley points out, in the mid-1980s. At that point, the Internet was used to send large files over slow networks. Today, most web traffic consists of short files being sent over fast networks. (Streaming video is somewhat different, but we'll set that aside). Modern web browsers and quality websites play tricks to try to compensate for this, but there's only so much they can do.
The people who build large websites, web browsers, and networks are not idiots, and they're hard at work figuring out how to deal with this. If you really want to get your nerd on, here's a 25-minute presentation by Google's Urs Holzle where he goes through some ideas on how to make things drastically faster simply by altering protocols:

It's like that Beatles song about things getting better all the time.
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