In the late 1970s and early 1980s, during the earliest generations of personal computers, programmers had to work within the confines of relatively expensive and limited resources. 8 or 16 kilobytes of RAM was common; 64 kilobytes was considered a vast amount and was the entire address space of the 8-bit CPUs of the day. Expansion beyond 64K required bank switching or a high-end 16-bit CPU. Storage capacities ranged from 5.25 inch floppy disks holding from 88 to 170kB to 10-megabyte hard drives costing thousands of dollars.
Personal computer memory sizes have expanded by orders of magnitude over time, and mainstream software took advantage of the added capabilities. By contrast, system requirements for legacy software remained the same. As a result, even the most elaborate, feature-rich programs of yesteryear seem minimalist in comparison with current software. Many of these programs are now considered abandonware.
As the capabilities and system requirements of common desktop software and operating systems grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and as software development became dominated by teams espousing conflicting, faddish development methodologies, some developers adopted minimalism as a philosophy and chose to limit their programs to a predetermined size or scope. A focus on software optimization can result in minimalist software, as programmers reduce the number of operations their program carries out in order to speed execution.
In the early 21st century, new developments in computing devices have brought minimalism to the forefront. It is no longer necessary to buy a high-end desktop personal computer merely to perform common computing tasks. When compared to desktop computers, portable devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, netbooks and plug computers often have smaller memory capacities and slower processors, which have made minimalism an important design concern. Google's Chrome browser and Chrome OS are often cited as examples of minimalist design. In Windows 8, Microsoft has decided to drop the graphics-intensive Aero user interface in favor of the "simple, squared-off" Metro appearance, which requires less system resources. This change was made in part because of the rise of smaller, battery-powered devices and the need to conserve power.
Developers may create user interfaces made to be as simple as possible by eliminating buttons and dialog boxes that may potentially confuse the user. Minimalism is sometimes used in its visual arts meaning, particularly in the industrial design of the hardware device or software theme.
Some developers have attempted to create programs to perform a particular function in the fewest lines of code, or smallest compiled executable size possible on a given platform. Some Linux distributions mention minimalism as a goal. Puppy Linux, Bodhi Linux, dynebolic and DSL Linux are examples.
John Millar Carroll, in his book Minimalism Beyond the Nürnberg Funnel pointed out the use of minimalism resulting in little-or-no learning curve with the benefit of 'instant-use' devices such as video games, ATMs, voting machines, and mall kiosks that do not require the user to read manuals. User Interface researchers have performed experiments suggesting that minimalism, as illustrated by the design principles of parsimony and transparency, bolsters efficiency and learnability. Minimalism is implicit in the Unix philosophies of "Everything is a text stream" and "Do one thing and do it well."
See also 
- KISS principle
- List of software development philosophies
- No Silver Bullet
- Pareto principle 80:20 rule
- Plan 9 from Bell Labs
- Principle of good enough
- Puppy Linux
- Worse is better
- "dwm - dynamic window manager".
- ne has been written with sparing resource use as a basic goal. Every possible effort has been made to reduce the use of CPU time and memory, the number of system calls, and the number of characters output to the terminal. -- ne info page
- "Wik Wiki A Wiki in 1287 characters of PHP".
- "Google Chrome Cr-48, Paragon of Minimalist Design". PC Magazine. 2010-12-13.
- Pilcher, Pat (2009-07-13). "Battle of the browsers - which is master of the web?". The Independent (London).
- In 2009, desktops were 44% of the worldwide market and laptops were 56%. Just 3 years later, over 61% of the PCs sold are laptops and the trend is accelerating—this is globally, measuring all Windows PCs sold. Among consumers in the United States buying a PC this year, more than 76% will purchase laptops—the absolute number of all US desktops sold will be fewer than the number of tablets in 2012!
- "Crafting a Tiny Mach-O Executable".
- "Minimalist Cocoa programming".
- John Millar Carroll (1998). Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-03249-X. Retrieved 2007-11-21.
- Wren, C.; Reynolds, C. (2004). "Minimalism in Ubiquitous Interface Design" (PDF). Personal and Ubiquitous Computing (Springer) 8 (5): 370–373. doi:10.1007/s00779-004-0299-2. Retrieved 2008-07-29
- "Uzbl - web interface tools which adhere to the unix philosophy.". "The general idea is that Uzbl by default is very bare bones."