I ran across an article recently comparing the performance of a 1986 Mac and a 2007 PC. Of course the new machine would totally blow away the old one on a number crunching benchmark, but when it comes to the most mundane benchmarks — time to boot, launch Microsoft Word, open a file, do a search and replace, etc. — the old Mac pulls ahead slightly. Software bloat has increased at roughly the same rate as Moore’s law, making a new machine with new software no better than an old machine with old software in some respects.
The comparisons in the article resonate with my experience. I expect administrative tasks to be quick and number crunching to be slow, and so I’m continually surprised how long routine tasks take and how quickly numerical software runs.
Update (December 2014): Processors have not gotten much faster in the time since this post was first published, though we have more of them. However, applications do open faster. Perhaps software vendors have paid attention to bloat precisely because the free lunch of faster processors is over.