The Technical Side Of Windows 8

As we mentioned in the opening of this article, the single biggest addition to Windows 8 coming from Windows 7 will be Metro. Microsoft’s last major overhaul of Windows’ underpinnings was Windows Vista, and like Windows 7 before it, Microsoft is not looking to significantly alter the operation of the Windows kernel or related systems for Windows 8. With that said this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any technical changes that will ship with Windows 8.

Fundamentally Microsoft wants to keep the system requirements for Windows 8 the same as Windows 7, which means it needs to run (with varying definitions of “smoothly”) on a 1GHz CPU paired with 1GB of RAM and a DX9 class GPU. Realistically as their published requirements stand there is one difference from Windows 7: Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM). Windows 7 would work with older XPDM drivers (albeit without any of the benefits of WDDM), however Windows 8 specifically mentions WDDM as a requirement. This makes sense given the greater reliance on the GPU for Metro, but it also means there are going to be some machines out there using very early DX9 GPUs (e.g. Intel GMA 900) that won’t be able to run Windows 8 due to a lack of video drivers.

In any case the addition of ARM into the mix will be sure to spice things up., While Microsoft is optimizing Windows 8 to run on ARM CPUs there’s a vast range of ARM CPUs, and this is the full version of Windows. Microsoft’s current system requirements are easily discernable as x86 based, and we’d expect the ARM requirements to be fairly high to keep pace. Give the launch of quad core ARM SoCs later this year, it’s likely that will be a popular pairing with Windows 8 when it launches.

On a final note about system requirements, while Microsoft isn’t talking about specific versions of Windows 8 at this time, they’ve made it clear that x86 will live on for at least one more generation in order to fulfill their desire to have Windows 8 run on everything Windows 7 ran on. So x86 versions of Windows should be expected.

Moving on, as this was a press session as opposed to a technical session, Microsoft was a bit light on the details. We’re expecting quite a bit more in the next couple of days, but for the moment we’ve only been briefed on a few user-facing technologies that are new to Windows 8.

On the hardcore side of things, Microsoft has added a few tricks to Windows in order to keep memory usage from growing and to make the OS better suited for tablets. On the memory side they have added Page Combining, which will combine duplicate memory pages into a single page. This is primarily to reduce the overhead from multiple applications all having copies of the same shared resource by having applications outright share that resource’s memory pages. Page Combining will primarily be a tool for reclaiming memory when memory usage is approaching critical levels.

For making the OS better suited for tablet hardware, Microsoft has focused on small changes that can help the hardware sleep longer and wake up less often. Coalescing system timers and a dynamic tick mechanism are two such features that will be coming to Windows 8 (unfortunately we don’t have any more details on their function at this time). Meanwhile Metro will play a big part in making Windows tablet friendly, as Metro applications will be designed from the start to be able to handle phone/tablet style process management. This is to say that discarded applications will continue to stay open as a background application, having all of their memory pages intact but unable to schedule CPU time so long as they’re a background application. They’ll remain in this state until the OS decides to evict them, at which point they need to be able to gracefully shut down and resume when the user re-launches the application. Internally Microsoft calls this freezing and rehydrating an application.

The Windows Store The Technical Side Of Windows 8: Cont
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  • Booster - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    It's the ribbon again, but infinitely worse. Metro is just outright stupid, that is.

    I remember watching a presentation by Julie Larson-Green where she pitched the ribbon back in 2006. IIRC she said that they listened to the users and created the ribbon according to their usage scenarios. So according to her the ribbon was next best thing since sliced bread.

    Who were they listening to? The ribbon looks better give or take, but it's less useful in the workflow, it's less effective, it's just plain worse than the old concept. That division of MS doesn't listen to users, it's like a dictatorship in which we have to use our PCs the way that madam wants us to. But she doesn't do any actual work on the PC like me for example. Hell, you can't even preview a page or print without setting up the ribbon, where's the usability? Why do I have to scroll between all those damn tiles?

    This Windows 8 fiasco is where MS finally needs to realize the situation and finally take the matters well in hand.
    Reply
  • archer75 - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    You do realize you don't have to use the metro tile UI right? You can boot right in to a traditional desktop like you are used to.
    Plenty of updates here for the desktop user.

    Really this new metro UI just provides a better layer for tablets but the OS is still there which i'm really pumped about. I don't know how often i've been using my ipad and wishing I could access a real OS on it.
    Reply
  • Moricon - Friday, September 16, 2011 - link

    "Overall Windows 8 is extremely jarring right now from a desktop user perspective. Metro is the Windows shell, no ifs ands or butts. Metro applications can only be accessed through the Metro shell (i.e. the Start Screen), and the Metro shell is always what the tablet will boot up into. Explorer as we know it is the Metro shell – if you kill it, you kill Metro shell with it – so at this time it’s not possible to boot up into the traditional Windows desktop. Even if you could, the Start Menu is gone, replaced with Metro charms."

    Metro IS the windows Shell--- METRO IS EXPLORER!!!!

    Have you loaded the build, I have, played with it. IT SUCKS bigtime!

    Microsoft will go back on this, the pressure will be to great from the desktop user!

    There are improvements, better memory management, faster boot process, safer recovery options, faster work-flow (yes ribbon is actually better for non-power users, who use keyboard shortcuts.)

    Why can they not just bring those improvements to th Win desktop version and leave metro to Tablets, Netbooks and ARM anyway.

    My days of PC Gaming are coming to a close, most Games are crap! Looks seriously like Mint will become my main Work OS and I will keep a copy of WIN7 for my back catalog of games!
    Reply
  • MrBungle123 - Friday, September 16, 2011 - link

    How is this Metro crap going to work for those of us that make a living with a mouse and keyboard?

    I work in IT, I have to do everything from assisting users to writing programs. Its not uncommon for me to have Visual Studio, Outlook, IE, 2 databases, and 5 or 6 Remote Desktop connections going on at the same time.

    There is no way in hell I'm putting this garbage on my work computer, nor am i going to install it on any of the desktops/servers connected to my network. This is a user training nightmare, the resistance to migrating to Vista from XP is nothing compared to what the resistance of migrating from Win7 to Win8 will be if the final product is anything like this.
    Reply
  • talk2dfox - Friday, September 16, 2011 - link

    Does anyone else think Windows 8 seems to have no coherent strategy?

    For users:

    1) two different types of applications, which can't run side by side: what do you do if you are a business user who needs to switch efficiently between one application which is Metro-based and another which is not?

    2) switch to the desktop and click on the start button and you're back at the Metro UI? huh? Are the only desktop applications I can start directly from the desktop UI the ones which have links on the desktop?

    3) some settings are in the metro control panel, others in the old windows control panel

    4) too many gestures which will be impossible to remember because they bear no relation to anything you've used before. The whole reason why the touch experience of iPhone et al has caught on (and why even small children catch on to it quickly) is that it is familiar. Want to move what's currently on the screen up? put your finger on it and move it up as if it were a physical object. Want to zoom? use two fingers to "stretch" or "shrink" the image. So, what's the comparable analogy in Metro for swiping up to select a button? There isn't any. Not that Microsoft had much choice - they're trying to graft a touch experience onto an existing Windows UI which has too many different functions without physical analogies, so some of them are bound to be mapped to something weird. But that's the point - trying to graft a touch experience onto the existing Windows UI is never going to produce something coherent and intuitive.

    For developers:

    5) yet another API, but all the old APIs (.net and win32) still supported (but only on x86, not ARM).

    6) If you are starting to develop an application today, what should you use?

    Will an app built for Windows Phone 7 today be portable to Metro (and sellable via the Windows 8 store)? If not, will it run at all on an ARM-based metro phone or tablet? What about an x86 based tablet or desktop?

    What if you want to write an application to be used on Win 8 on all form factors? The only thing which will run on Win 8 on ARM will be Metro, but the development tools for Metro don't exist yet. Think about how far WP7 is behind iPhone and Android today, and then consider what the situation will be like for Win 8 which is just now reaching the point where Microsoft can demo the UI and talk about development.

    Contrast this situation with iOS/OS X: With a single language (objective C), a single development environment (xcode), and two variants of essentially the same framework (Cocoa), you can target iPhone/iPad and Mac.
    Reply

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