Wirth's law

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Wirth's law is a computing adage which states that software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster.

The law is named after Niklaus Wirth, who discussed it in 1995.[1][2] Wirth attributed the saying to Martin Reiser, who, in the preface to his book on the Oberon System, wrote: "The hope is that the progress in hardware will cure all software ills. However, a critical observer may observe that software manages to outgrow hardware in size and sluggishness."[3] Other observers had noted this for some time before; indeed the trend was becoming obvious as early as 1987.[4]

The law was restated in 2009 and attributed to Larry Page, founder of Google. It has been referred to as Page's law.[5] The first use of that name is attributed to Sergey Brin at the Google I/O Conference 2009.[6]

Gates' law[edit]

Gates' law is a variant on Wirth's law, borrowing its name from Bill Gates,[7] the founder of Microsoft. It is a humorous and ironic observation that the speed of commercial software generally slows by 50% every 18 months, thereby negating all the benefits of Moore's law. This could occur for a variety of reasons: "featuritis", "code cruft", developer laziness, or a management turnover whose design philosophy does not coincide with the previous manager.[8]

May's law[edit]

May's law, named after David May, is a variant where:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Niklaus Wirth (February 1995). "A Plea for Lean Software". Computer. Vol. 28 no. 2. pp. 64–68. doi:10.1109/2.348001. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  2. ^ Philip E. Ross. "5 Commandments". IEEE Spectrum. 
  3. ^ Reiser, Martin (1991). The Oberon System User Guide and Programmer's Manual. ACM Press. ISBN 0-201-54422-9. 
  4. ^ Geoffrey Welsh (1987). "Yes, There IS a Difference Between Micros and 'Big' Computers". TPUG News. 2 (1). Archived from the original on March 10, 2005. 
  5. ^ "Can "Page's Law" Be Broken?". Slashdot. 
  6. ^ searchengineland (2009-05-27). "Sergey Brin On Breaking "Page's Law" Of Software Sluggishness". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  7. ^ a b Gates' law, from the Jargon Lexicon, in the Jargon File (version 4.4.7).
  8. ^ Orion, Egan (March 21, 2003). "WinTel trips on Linux?", The Inquirer.
  9. ^ Eadline, Douglas. "May's Law and Parallel Software". Linux Magazine. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The School of Niklaus Wirth: The Art of Simplicity by László Böszörményi, Jürg Gutknecht, and Gustav Pomberger (editors), Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2000, ISBN 1-55860-723-4.