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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  • DeciusStrabo - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    Yes, they function as widgets too. But compared to real widgets they are a very poor tool indeed. Limited in size, limited in what they can show. WP7 has the same problem for me: Even simple widgets in Android or Bada or Symbian blow them out of the water. The Calendar Live Tile shows only one appointment! Reply
  • ilkhan - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    I have 11 different apps pinned to my 7 taskbar, all but one of them have at least 1 window open (several have 3, the closed one is JUST a jumplist launcher). Doing anything to hide that (as an example, requiring a fullscreen IE experience) is incredibly STUPID of microsoft. Long live Vista2. Reply
  • BioTurboNick - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    Internet Explorer has both a Metro mode and a normal windowed mode. Reply
  • rdamiani - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    What is wrong is:

    - Opening a new program replaces the existing screen with a new one full of live data that will want to refresh

    - Developers, sure in the certain belief that their program is the best in the world, will add tiles full of live data (that needs to be refreshed) that relate to their wonderfulness.

    - The poor state of PC screen resolution - already dumbed down to a long and skinny VGA-class ribbon - won't allow you to have more than a few of these live-data tiles (needing to be refreshed) at a time.

    - Everyone's computer will look different with stuff in all kinds of different places. Which will make tech support way more challenging than it already is.

    Microsoft keeps learning the wrong lessons from the competition. Just because Apple ported springboard to Lion (as an application you don't need to use) doesn't mean that Microsoft needs to put springboard-on-crack front-and-center in Windows 8.
    Reply
  • UMADBRO - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Just give it a damn chance before you hate all over it. I bet you were one of the whiners that complained about the changes that were made to Windows 7, and Vista before it, and XP before that, etc etc. FFS, If everything stayed the same, no one would have a damn reason to upgrade. And their is your other potential solution. Stick with Win 7 if you already hate 8 so much and are unwilling to give it a chance. Problem solved! Reply
  • futurepastnow - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    I have every intention of trying out the public betas and "giving it a chance," but I'm not going to be passively fed what Microsoft thinks people want. I'm going to make it clear what I want, even if they never read these comments.

    And what I want is to never, ever, ever, see anything that uses Metro on a desktop computer. In the builds so far, it can't be turned off.
    Reply
  • piiman - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    "I'm going to make it clear what I want, even if they never read these comments.:

    Then you're just making noise. Go tell MS, don't post it somewhere they will never see it.
    Reply
  • Wraith404 - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer
    set the key RPEnabled to 0
    Reply
  • crispbp04 - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    It has nothing to do with being stupid or juvenile. It's about understanding the way a NORMAL person uses their computer.

    Yeah, we all get it... you think you're a big technoweenie because you require a high resolution with tiny fonts so you can cram more information per square inch than at least 10 ''normal" users. You like over-complicated menus and 100 different ways to accomplish the same task because it makes you feel special when you can whiz bang all over your operating system while someone is watching. I'm not sure why you're complaining about full screen applications anyway(in post below)... The market already decided where things should be and you're looking at it

    The reality is, you're clueless. You need to change your name to just "past"... since your ideology is stuck there. You resist change, you call progression "garbage". A true power user cares more about performance and usability. We use keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything. When other people see us interact with a windows operating system, they are always blown away. (Hit start key type two letters OMG the right application/doc/email/etc opens).. "how'd you do that!?"... MUST BE MAGIC!? No.. it's called progressing with the operating system. Most people who read this don't even know their start menu can do this. (which is the ONLY sad part of windows, most users still interact with it like it's windows 95)

    If you've used a windows phone 7 you know that metro is BY FAR the best setup for a desktop interface. It's proven itself in the phone form factor and will now become the defacto standard for a tablet. You can quote me on this in 2013. If you're a desktop fanatic I'm absolutely confident that microsoft will get it just right this time around. Quote me on that also.
    Reply
  • jbaumann - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    "It's proven itself in the PHONE form factor and will now become the defacto standard for a TABLET."

    quoted for emphasis

    I cannot see how it should be a big improvement for anybody who is working at a desktop PC (i.e. no touchscreen, remember the gorilla arm), with a mouse and a keyboard.
    Reply

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