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Microsoft's Windows 7 was looking good running on an ASUS laptop (with bamboo paneling) at WinHEC. The OS is set to ship in mid 2009, much earlier than expected.  (Source: Ina Fried/CNET News)
Windows 7 is set to drop mid-year 2009, says Microsoft

At Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), an important yearly event for the tech giant, new hardware details on the upcoming Windows 7 weren't the only revelation that Microsoft had in store.  Perhaps the most significant development of the conference came as a minor clarification -- Microsoft set a solid timeframe for when it plans to release Windows 7, barring unforeseen problems.

Originally, speculation was that Microsoft might field a Windows Vista successor in 2011 or 2012 as there was over 5 years between the release of Windows XP and Windows Vista.  However, with less than glowing reception of Vista, largely due to poor hardware partner support and a large footprint, Microsoft stepped up its efforts to launch its new Windows OS, which would set right the places where Vista went wrong.

Early this year, 2010 was what some Microsoft executives were saying to expect for a release date.  However, as the year progressed, Microsoft's top executives became increasingly optimistic that the OS could be delivered in late 2009.  Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer first floated the possibility of a 2009 release earlier this year.

Microsoft director Doug Howe showed slides in a WinHEC presentation that all but confirmed a 2009 release -- and even earlier than expected.  His slides stated that Microsoft will be releasing Windows 7 mid-year, in time to be included on the machines to be sold during the holiday buying season.  Mr. Howe stated, "Definitely the holiday focus is going to be on 7."

Also revealed by Mr. Howe were more details on Microsoft's secretive Velocity program aimed at improving Windows Vista PC quality.  The program, according to Microsoft, will run through next spring, conveniently terminating at about the time that Windows 7 will be preparing to ship.

The new program was initially only open to select computer manufacturers, but will now be opened to select software and hardware partners as well.  The basic premise is that the partners will have to engineer their products to work optimally with Vista and will have to undergo rigorous certification testing.  Partners will benefit from the good publicity, and Mr. Howe revealed in a slide that Microsoft might do some advertising for their products first-hand.

No list of the criteria was given, but one of the criteria, confirmed by Mr. Howe, was the ability to boot Windows Vista and have it ready to run within 50 seconds.  Many of the Velocity-certified machines boot significantly faster than this, according to Mr. Howe, but Microsoft wanted to set a widely obtainable goal.

After the debacle of Microsoft's "Vista Capable" program, which saw the company's stickers placed on underpowered bargain machines clearly not Vista ready, Velocity is both an effort on Microsoft's part to show that it's turned over a new leave and an effort to overall improve Vista machine quality.  The program launched in July 2007.

The program targeted the sluggish system performance that was plaguing many Windows Vista machines.  Originally intended as a three month program, it was extended far past the planned termination, due to Microsoft realizing there was still much work to be done.  In particular the program aims to speed up the time it takes for Vista computers to start up, shut down, sleep, and wake up.  Other goals include that all the hardware and software is completely compatible with Vista, as compatibility is a perennial trouble-spot or Vista.

Microsoft's labs in Redmond, Wash. are in charge of the Velocity testing.

Overall, Windows observers should be able to appreciate that Microsoft sincerely seems to be trying to improve the OS.  However, what it can't improve like memory and processing footprint, should be remedied with the release of Windows 7, which has now been all but confirmed for mid next year.   

One last interesting note -- Microsoft previously stated that it would release Vista's Service Pack 2 before Windows 7 -- so that means that if it sticks with this plan, Vista SP2 is likely coming in Spring of 2009.  Stay tuned for more details on that one.

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RE: Footprint?
By Spivonious on 11/7/2008 1:14:40 PM , Rating: 3
You can turn off both the Indexer and Media Sharing. But it doesn't make much sense.

The indexer has a low-priority IO thread, so it doesn't slow down other apps. The amount of CPU and RAM that it uses is miniscule. It would drain the battery in a notebook pretty quickly until the index gets built though (took about 5-6 hours on my desktop).

Media sharing simply causes your computer to show up as a media device. Again, an unnoticeable amount of resources is used.

You can go into the registry or use msconfig to disable the other startup items you listed.

RE: Footprint?
By emboss on 11/8/2008 7:13:00 AM , Rating: 2
The indexer has a low-priority IO thread, so it doesn't slow down other apps.

Although this is commonly-stated, it is, alas, incorrect unless you have a SSD. The problem is that the I/O scheduler in Vista doesn't appear to use anticipatory techniques properly when pulling items from the background I/O queue. Since most applications don't read an entire file in a single read call, this means that low-priority requests are inserted between closely-spaced normal priority requests.

This creates problems if the low-priority requests are to distant locations on the disk than the normal priority requests. For example, if you're streaming a file off the disk, this might be done at the application level as a series of 1 MB reads. These 1 MB reads are broken up into a number of 64 KB reads prior to the I/O queue. Since all these reads are at normal priority, they are all done prior to any background I/O reads. All up, they might take 10 ms on a modern disk, giving you a total throughput of 100 MB/sec.

Now, once all the 64 KB reads have been emptied from the normal priority queue, there is a small delay until the reading thread gets resumed and it can dispatch another 1 MB read. During this time, the normal priority queue is empty. So, the I/O scheduler notices this, and notices that there's a request in the background queue, so dispatches it. The end result is a 64 KB read operation from the background queue in between the 1 MB normal priority reads. On a SSD, this doesn't matter since there's effectively no seek time. On spinning rust, you're looking at about 25 ms for the two seeks (one to the background request, one back to the foreground file), bringing your total throughput down to 28 MB/sec.

Vista isn't quite this bad. I did a test exactly like this (sequential 1 MB reads) and it showed a ~30% drop in throughput when the indexer was active, as opposed to the ~70% drop from the calculations. Also, after 30 seconds or so the indexer would realise that it was getting in the way and back off.

Streaming may appear to be the most extreme example of this problem. However, it actually shows up more significantly when doing compiling. If I do a rebuild in Visual Studio (2005) while the indexer is currently running (or if SuperFetch is shuffling things around), it takes around twice as long as if there were no "background" I/O tasks running. The problem is less pronounced when using the GNU toolchain, presumably as the parallel make keeps the disk queue full enough that background I/Os can't sneak in so often. This should apply to VS2008, since that finally supports parallel building, but I haven't tried it yet. Also, in this case, the indexer does not appear back off.

This is one of the things which hopefully will be fixed in Windows 7, or in a service pack to Vista. It just requires a bit more tuning and testing in the I/O scheduler to be a bit less aggressive in processing background requests if normal priority requests keep coming in while waiting on background I/Os to complete. As it is, background I/Os aren't truly "background" unless you've got an average normal-priority I/O queue depth of something greater than 1.

SuperFetch itself could use some tuning as well, but that's another long post ...

RE: Footprint?
By Spivonious on 11/10/2008 10:17:11 AM , Rating: 2
Well, Vista might not get it completely right, but it's a heck of a lot better than XP. XP doesn't even have prioritized I/O. Windows Search 4 appears to monitor CPU usage to know when it can start updating the index.

The Engineering Windows 7 blog did imply that they have further tuned I/O performance in Windows 7, so hopefully we'll see an even better system that Vista has.

RE: Footprint?
By Spivonious on 11/10/2008 10:17:12 AM , Rating: 2
Well, Vista might not get it completely right, but it's a heck of a lot better than XP. XP doesn't even have prioritized I/O. Windows Search 4 appears to monitor CPU usage to know when it can start updating the index.

The Engineering Windows 7 blog did imply that they have further tuned I/O performance in Windows 7, so hopefully we'll see an even better system that Vista has.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007
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