This is the first post in a series covering Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC), taking place November 17–19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The TuneUp Blog team traveled all the way from Germany to bring you the latest news from the world’s largest Microsoft event for developers. This week it’s all about Office 2010, Windows 7, and cloud computing—we’re also hearing that Internet Explorer (IE) will get bumped to version 9.
Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Kernel changes
After a rather back-end- and server-focused keynote presentation this morning, the session we’d like to share some thoughts about is Mark Russinovich’s in-depth Windows discussion. Mark is a Microsoft technical fellow and the founder of Winternals Tools and he is probably one of the most knowledgeable Windows gurus at the Redmond campus.
Mark talked about performance, scalability, power efficiency, virtualization and security enhancements in Windows 7, and its counterpart, Windows Server 2008 R2. First off, he started the session with a anecdote about the version number of Windows 7, which internally is known as NT 6.1.7600.
Mark stated that the main reason for this odd version number is that applications continue to be compatible. The reason: some software products perform a version check upon startup, and they wouldn’t start if they found “7″ instead of the more familiar “6.x” (Windows Vista).
Mark continued his presentation by sharing details about a possible future Windows kernel that Microsoft is currently experimenting with called MinWin and it is nothing more than a test operating system that is already booting, and that Microsoft developers can currently talk to via a command line. It is designed to help them understand and possibly develop a smaller and more intelligent Windows kernel for future releases.
To give you some numbers: Mark showed that MinWin currently runs with only 10 processes (compared to the many dozens running on typical XP, Vista, and 7 machines). The kernel takes up only 20 MB of RAM—which is impressive for an operating system. Again, it is more of a prototype that Microsoft is currently testing, rather than an early version of Windows 8 or 9.
From there, Mark went on to ask about the performance of Windows 7 and if users were sticking to Vista because they like the performance better. Not a single hand went up. Mark then told the eager crowd about how Microsoft managed to get Windows 7 to run noticeably faster:
- First of all, Windows 7 uses up 10 to 30% less memory than Vista.
- File copy operations don’t have much impact on performance. It doesn’t allow the file cache to grow and take away memory resources from the kernel. So, when you’re copying a large file under Windows 7, and your PC runs out of memory, the kernel or your programs don’t get paged to the hard disk. This results in Windows 7 running much faster.
- Microsoft also used a tool called PerfTrack to analyze more than 300 scenarios, such as a user opening the Start menu or browsing through the Control Panel—and find out why these daily tasks are so slow.
- The ReadyBoost feature, which allows users to extend the system cache with USB flash memory, has been tweaked to make Windows boot faster, and it now supports a USB cache of up to 32 GB. This is especially important on machines, like netbooks, with one GB of memory or less)
Mark then continued with a discussion on energy efficiency. People want their laptop batteries to last a long time; and don’t want to spend money on high energy bills due to desktop PCs and servers. Mark explained that Microsoft realized that in order to save energy on a Windows-based PC, the PC has to essentially do nothing. First of all, the company implemented a feature called Core Parking in Windows Server 2008 R2, which tries to keep processor cores more idle compared to previous versions—especially while others are busy with specific tasks. This prevents all cores to be kept busy with simple tasks.
However, Mark told the audience that this has not yet been implemented in the consumer version of Windows 7, as client machines are usually busy with tasks, like video editing or gaming, or not busy at all. As such, Microsoft found that Core Parking wouldn’t make sense on a typical user machine. The following graphic shows how this is implemented.
Microsoft decided on one side to natively reduce the battery life impact of the Windows operating system. Mark explained that, in Windows 7, most devices will automatically use a suspend state in order to save power. For example, if you’re not using Bluetooth, LAN, HD audio or the USB ports, the latest operating system puts them in a deep sleep state and only wakes them up when necessary. On the other side, it gives users the ability to look at their system’s energy efficiency. To do that, in Windows 7, you will find an Energy Report that watches your system for a short period of time, and shows you if and exactly where there are energy-related problems. This is how it works:
- Open up a command prompt by clicking on the Start Orb, typing in cmd, right-clicking on the cmd, and then clicking on Run as administrator.
- Type in the command powercfg /energy, and wait for approximately 60 seconds. Confirm with Yes.
- Once complete, go to the Windows\System32\ folder, and double-click on the energy-report.html file. Here you will see all sorts of processes and devices that take up too much energy—and, in many cases, gives you advice on how to resolve these issues.
Wrapping up his talk, Mark discussed that, in Windows 7, most services are only started when they are triggered to do so. The goal here, he said, is to save memory and processor resources. For example, Windows Error Reporting (WER) is a service that has been running all of the time in the background of XP and Vista, waiting for a process to crash. If an application isn’t crashing (which is most of the time), the service would just be sitting there, consuming your resources. In Windows 7, Microsoft improved performance by only starting services when they are needed. To further illustrate this, Mark caused a process to crash and showed how this crash immediately started WER and automatically stopped it when WER finished its job of collecting information about the crash and sending this data over to Microsoft (if you choose to do so).
Overall, Mark proved in his session that Windows 7 has been significantly enhanced, to reduce performance bottlenecks and increase battery life. The folks attending the PDC were blown away by these new features. We’re wrapping today’s work at the event, but stay tuned for more coverage highlights tomorrow!