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Posted by Anuradha Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Windows 7 (formerly known as Blackcomb and Vienna) is the working name for the next major version of Microsoft Windows as the successor of Windows Vista. Microsoft has announced that it is "scoping Windows 7 development to a three-year timeframe", and that "the specific release date will ultimately be determined by meeting the quality bar." Windows 7 is expected to be released sometime in 2010. The client versions of Windows 7 will ship in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. A server variant, codenamed Windows Server 7, is also under development.

Microsoft is maintaining a policy of silence concerning discussion of plans and aspirations for Windows 7 as they focus on the release and marketing of Windows Vista, stating that Microsoft does not want to promise features and then fail to deliver, as happened with Windows Vista Ultimate, though some early details of various core operating system features have emerged. As a result, little is known about the feature set, though public presentations from company officials have disseminated information about some features. Leaked information from people to whom Milestone 1 (M1) of Windows 7 was shipped also provides some insight into the feature set.

Inside Windows 7 What we Know So Far

Virtual machines for ‘legacy’ software

There have also been indications that Windows 7 will use virtualisation to run any software that hasn’t been specifically written for Windows 7 or using Microsoft’s .NET language. 7‘s use of virtual machines to run these ‘legacy’ applications was leaked on Microsoft’s own Channel 9 community forum in July in a (quickly removed!) thread. While it's a novel approach for Microsoft to take, it's certainly not a first. Apple migrated users from its Mac OS Classic environment to Mac OS X by loading the classic OS in a virtual machine of sorts if users needed to run one of their old applications. At this early stage, no-one can guarantee that any feature will definitely be on the Windows 7 roster. After all, at the equivalent stage of Vista’s evolution Microsoft was talking about everything from the WinFS database storage system to all manner of ‘blue sky’ notions, all of which were dropped before Longhorn hit its first beta release. Sinofsky’s track record paints him as more of a realist, however, and OS-based virtualisation makes sense for plenty of reasons. Microsoft already has the technology in Hyper-V, the hypervisor-based virtualisation system designed for Windows Server 2008. And hardware won’t be an issue: by the time Windows 7 arrives circa 2010, quad-core will have replaced dual-core as the mainstream, with substantially larger cache including big slabs of Level 3 cache.
L3 already exists in AMD’s ‘Barcelona’ architecture and have been hinted for Intel’s ‘Nehalem’, which will succeed the current Core micro-architecture in the second half of 2008. (In fact, if Windows 7 breaks cover towards the end of 2010 it’ll be accompanied by Intel’s post-Nehalem Core microarchitecture revision, codenamed Gesher.)

Also, considering that Nehalem will debut with eight cores in a single die, there’s no reason we couldn’t see a string of single cores each being set aside for running a VM, with a flash drive used to hold and launch the virtual machine software in order to dramatically boost session speed, especially during the ‘transition states’ of startup and shutdown which represent so much of the VM overhead.

PCs will also sport obscene amounts of memory: 4GB will likely be equivalent to today’s ‘entry level’ of 1GB, with flash drives used in concert with hard drives to actively store files rather than just be a shot-term cache.

Kernel knowledge

Eye candy, begone: MinWin is so lean that even the Windows flag on the splash screen is rendered using ASCII Eye candy, begone: MinWin is so lean that even the Windows flag on the splash screen is rendered using ASCII .We do know that the next generation of Windows will be built around a stripped-back ‘microkernel’ codenamed MinWin. As previously reported, MinWin has been described as “the Windows 7 source-code base”. MinWin is currently an internal project to strip back the NT kernel to the barest of bare metal, but will be used “to build all the products based on Windows” said Microsoft engineer Eric Traut during a demonstration of Microsoft’s virtualisation technology at the University of Illinois in October. “It’s not just the OS that’s running on many laptops in this room, it’s also the OS used for media centres, for servers, for small embedded devices.”

As ‘proof of concept’, Traut showed an iteration of MinWin consisting of just 100 system files, which occupied 25MB of hard disk space and ran in 40MB of RAM. “It’s still bigger than I’d like it to be, but we’ve taken a shot at really stripping out all of the layers above and making sure that we had a clean architectural layer there”.

The return of WinFS ?

More speculative is the question of WinFS, which sits atop the NTFS file system to allow data to be stored, accessed and managed based on relationships with other data. WinFS was originally to use the Yukon database engine of SQL Server 2005, which included native support for XML, but became the first of Vista’s many ‘foundation pillars’ to topple -- primarily because Microsoft couldn't get the speed of the system remotely close to something a user would consider acceptable compared to the relatively simpler NTFS file system in use today.

Despite initial promises that it would be released in the year following the launch of Vista, the last news on WinFS was that some of its technologies have been rolled into the Katmai engine of SQL Server 2008. Microsoft may well forge ahead with a relationship-savvy file system in Windows 7, built around the Katmai engine, but the ‘WinFS’ label could remain buried..

A new look.

There’s no doubt that Windows 7.0 will sport a revised interface. It was Sinofky’s winning gamble to give Office 2007 an all-new UI which swapped the decades-old clutter of menus, toolbars, task panes and what-not for a single task-aware ‘ribbon’. Office 2007’s UI overhaul itself was led by Julie Larson-Green, who (as reported earlier this year) Sikofsky has since tapped to head the “User Experience” program for Windows 7.

Will Windows 7 see as radical a facelift as Office 2007? That’s harder to tell, because the change in Office 2007 wasn’t made for change’s sake: Larsen-Green went back to first principles for the suite, and she’s likely to do exactly the same for Windows. Starting with a clean slate, she’ll be asking what people expect their computer to do, and then how an OS should fit in with that. But its safe to say that feral UI elements such as Vista’s ‘icon overload’ Control Panel are not long for this world.


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