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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Small is beautiful
Piet Mondrian 5K
Mondrian features in a minimalist art museum
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

An entire online furniture store and a tiny art museum have become winners of a competition to create webpages only five kilobytes in size.

The competition was launched in March this year to see if anyone could build an entire webpage smaller than many of the pictures some sites use as illustrations.

Over 1200 entries were submitted for the competition - so many that the announcement of the winners was over a month late.

The 5K competition is one example of an emerging trend towards the creation of parsimonious programs and a backlash against bloated software.

The overall winner was a website created by the Web Production Group at Cornell University.

It managed to squeeze an electronic shopping cart system and an online shop into the 5,120 bytes allowed.

Falling princesses

Most websites are tens, if not hundreds, of times bigger than 5,120 bytes. The smaller a webpage, the faster it loads.

But the winners are not going to get rich as a result of their victory. The prize for winning is only 5,120 cents.

Limitations are the soil from which creativity grow

Stewart Butterfield, 5K contest founder
Instead, entrants should "do it for the honour," said Stewart Butterfield, organiser of the competition.

He said the competition was run to get web designers thinking inventively about the pages they produce. "Limitations are the soil from which creativity grows," he said.

Entries included a tough, 3D, Tetris-type game, a tiny art museum, a page demonstrating the futility of war and a bizarre game requiring the player to swallow falling princesses.

Competition entrants used all kinds of tricks to limit the size of their creation.

One designer labelled variables with single letters rather than names to save a few bytes.

The lessons learned while creating the parsimonious pages are likely to become more important as limited memory devices such as PDA and phones start to be used to access the web.

Bloat is bad

But it is not just in webpage design that the benefits of economy and creativity are being championed.

One of the reasons that software such as Linux is proving popular is because programmers and companies are tired of over-engineered programs that crash repeatedly and hog resources.

Veteran programmer Rick Downes edits the Bloatbusters website that takes apart badly written programs and shows what they are doing wrong.

He says he is constantly amazed at the poor programming he finds inside commercial software. Many programs can be replicated in far less space.

Mr Downes has created a version of the Windows Explorer program that is only 26 kilobytes in size - far smaller than the original.

But, he says, consumers are increasingly sensitive to bloat and fewer and fewer people are happy to accept what they are given.

Companies such as Opera and New Deal are capitalising on this trend and are creating much smaller software programs.

Opera makes a web browser far smaller than any produced by Netscape or Microsoft. New Deal makes a program similar to Windows, but takes up only 15 megabytes of space.

By contrast, the minimum specification for the Windows 2000 Professional Edition is 64 megabytes of RAM and 650 megabytes hard disk space.

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See also:

10 Jan 00 | Business
IBM lines up with Linux
16 Feb 00 | Business
Linux - Microsoft's new nightmare
24 Feb 00 | Background
Your experiences of Windows 2000
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