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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  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    If you don't like the Metro UI, no one is forcing you to use it. Reply
  • jeremyshaw - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    yeah, seriously. MS isn't making Metro UI for desktops, just tablets and users who want it... Reply
  • futurepastnow - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Yes, they are. The Explorer shell is gone and Metro has replaced it completely. In these early builds, at least, Metro cannot be turned off and you cannot boot to the desktop. Reply
  • dragonsqrrl - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Yes, in these early builds that may be the case, but Microsoft has stated publicly on multiple occasions that the metro UI will be optional on desktops. You can use it in combo with the traditional explorer interface (similar to the demo), or disable it entirely. Reply
  • UMADBRO - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    He just wants to go around crying because he might have to learn something new. I think a complete redesign like this is needed. Windows was getting rather boring, even with some of the new stuff added in 7. Give it a chance at least. Im sure for all the old fogeys that have an aneurysm at the thought of anything changing, there will be some classic options. And also on note, ITS A PRE-BETA DEVELOPER RELEASE. NOTHING IS FINAL YET! SO CALM THE F&*$ DOWN! Reply
  • loll123 - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    And you seriously think that Windows is made primarily for people like you? The corporate customers (the ones that are Microsoft's bread and butter) who resisted upgrading from Windows XP up until this day aren't going to accept change like this just because Microsoft says it's the way forward. They are going to have backtrack and redesign just like they did with Vista -> 7, unless the board of directors decide to clean up this mess and rein the design in before final release (as seems to be business as usual at Microsoft). Reply
  • BioTurboNick - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    You seem to be suggesting that 7 was a backtrack on Vista. That is far from the case. Reply
  • mlambert890 - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    +1... in addition, corporations are refreshing more and more slowly and are more and more out of sync with consumers. This is to the extreme detriment of IT as consumerization is a real trend. IT is reaching an "adapt or die" point in time and it is almost certain the latter will happen. Eventually businesses will simply allow the 'bring your own' model and contract services to provide capability.

    These are well known and understood industry trends and are real to anyone who *actually* works in the industry. The only folks who don't 'get it' are IT cube workers in denial or kids posting on blogs who think they understand the industry by reading comment threads.

    This is actually a big problem for Microsoft because consumers are becoming a bigger force, but they are failing against Apple to capture enthusiasm with new consumers because legacy IT people, and out dated Windows users, want to keep the product stagnating.

    Lost interest on the consumer side coupled with absolute inertia on the IT side is a killer for MSFT. They have to try to do something. Maybe Metro isnt it, but the nay-sayers on this thread have zero clue and are irrelevant.

    The massive success of Apple has been absolute proof that consumers want a commoditized experience and the increasing presence of macbooks and ipads (guerilla style) in even *large* enterprises is proof that business is more than happy to pass the end user technology burden *onto* users.

    If someone is willing to BUY and SUPPORT their OWN MacBook and ipad, why NOT let them if you are the CFO? All you need to do is ensure that your corporate apps are all presented via browser and/or managed service and enterprises are fast moving to make that happen.

    It is do or die time for MSFT. if they listen to the eternal bitching and moaning of forum malcontents, they'll end up dying.
    Reply
  • loll123 - Friday, September 16, 2011 - link

    People like you say all this while Microsoft are enjoying record sales with Windows 7 (and record profits as a company as a result), and while no one can show any numbers that tablets other than those made by Apple are actually selling. In the end, although it might take the intervention of shareholders or the BoD, I think Microsoft will know better than to throw out their existing (and extremely profitable) business for what is increasingly looking like a new IT bubble. Reply
  • loll123 - Friday, September 16, 2011 - link

    I understand your point, but a backtrack is exactly what it was. Windows 7 took all the good stuff from Vista like UAC, aggressive disk caching and the re-designed audio kernel and put them in a system with more mature drivers, important tweaks and with a smoothness and a UI that users actually liked rather than reviled. They responded to the criticisms of Vista and the result was an excellent operating system. It's no coincidence that Windows Vista failed miserably whereas Windows 7 was a huge success, but the difference was definitely in the finer details and in the user experience. Eventually Microsoft are going to have to bow to customer pressures in the case of Windows 8 as well. Reply

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