To Reboot is to kill

February 14, 2007

Stevey has an amazing post on his definition of perfect software. The post spans several interesting aspects of what makes great software and I can’t say I agree with all of them (although I appreciate a good command line interface as much as the next guy, I can’t really see it as necessary for certain types of apps).

Steve shines when discussing unstable software, the type of software that requires reboots on regular basis by design. He compares reboots to killing of the nascent consciousness:

Nobody’s going to shed a tear over the deliberate slaying of an amoeba. Well, most people won’t. Similarly, I don’t think it makes sense to get worked up when your “Hello, World!” process commits ritual suicide by exiting main() after emitting its one message to the world. But I think we’ve established that each invocation of your “Hello, World” program is creating a separate instance of a minute consciousness.

Well… sort of. A “Hello, World” program, which has no loops or branches, can’t exhibit any nondeterminism (unless it’s imposed externally, e.g. by a random hardware error), so you can think of it as pure hardware implemented in software. But somewhere between Hello, World and Hal 9000 lies a minimal software program that can be considered to possess rudimentary consciousness, at which point turning it off is tantamount to killing it.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth the time investment!


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