Windows 7's real killer feature

What gives Windows 7 a strong future is not what you're thinking

Everyone loves a killer feature: that must-have capability or technology that prompts you to plunk down your hard-earned cash in an effort to upgrade your computing experience.

In the case of Windows, there have been precious few versions that included a truly killer feature. Windows 3.1 was a killer version because it allowed PCs to finally break (or at least reduce the impact of) the dreaded 640K barrier. Windows NT was a killer version (at least for power users) because it introduced the concepts of client/server security and true, hardware-based memory protection to the environment.

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Windows XP was a killer version because it bridged the gap between the consumer (Windows 9x) and business (Windows NT) computing spaces. And though generally considered a flop, Vista was a killer version in that it forced the Windows ecosystem to evolve beyond the Windows XP paradigm and thus paved the way for Windows 7.

Which brings me to my main point: Windows 7 is a killer version -- but not for the reasons you think. It's not because it fixes Vista's many faults -- it doesn't. Rather, it glosses them over with fresh paint and behavioral tricks.

It's also not because of the new UI. Although I'm a huge fan of the new task-bar-driven interface, much of the underlying concept is merely a rip-off of the Mac's aging dock metaphor. And it's not because Windows 7 is somehow lighter than Vista -- testing shows it takes up about the same amount of RAM when executing an identical workload.

No, the real killer feature of Windows 7 is scalability. Simply put, Windows 7 does a better job of taking advantage of the available hardware resources than its predecessors. This scalability edge manifests itself in the form of better performance under complex, multiprocess, multithreaded workloads.

Given the same number of CPU cores, Windows 7 runs circles around both Windows Vista and Windows XP. In fact, the results aren't even close: In one multiprocess workflow test, Windows 7 outpaced Windows XP by 250 percent -- this on an eight-core (dual quad-core Xeon) HP Z800 workstation.

This is Windows 7's killer feature. It means that, as customers invest in new PC hardware, they'll be better positioned to reap the improvements in CPU, memory, and chip set performance by deploying Windows 7. It also means that sticking with Windows XP -- ostensibly because it is less bloated and performs better -- is a fool's errand.

Times have changed. The hardware landscape is much different than when Windows XP was on the drawing boards. Back then, the concept of a multicore CPU was still just that: a concept. Windows XP was designed for a world of single CPU desktops and the occasional two- or four-way (discrete CPUs, not cores) engineering workstation. It simply isn't smart enough to know how to leverage something as complex as a modern-day Core i7- or E5xxx-series Xeon processor.

I'll be diving more into this topic in an upcoming InfoWorld Test Center article that will serve as a follow-up to my original research on this subject. In the meantime, if you were looking for that killer feature (or catchy slogan) to sell you on a Windows 7 upgrade, here it is:

Windows 7: Smarter where it counts.

This story, "Windows 7's real killer feature," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Windows 7 and Windows at InfoWorld.com.

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