Things I'll be looking for in the Windows 7 PDC build

Tough-love advice for what Microsoft needs to do in Windows 7 to put behind them the Vista disaster

Now that I know for certain I'll be receiving a pre-beta build of Windows 7 at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in November, it's time to start thinking about some of the performance-related characteristics I'll be looking for in the new OS.

Overall, Vista has been a major disappointment to me, and even Windows "Workstation" 2008 is a bit more top-heavy than I'd like at times. With Windows 7, I'll be looking for signs that Microsoft is returning to its NT roots, with a less-is-more approach that hearkens back to the early days when the New Technology kernel was still the darling of the IT power-user crowd.

Key focus areas will include:

Memory footprint: Specifically, how expansive the initial idle memory load is vs. Vista's. We already know that Microsoft targeted the so-called next generation of hardware with Vista and that it subsequently overshot that target by a country mile. Here's hoping Microsoft holds the line on working set growth with Windows 7. I don't care if it's as fat as Vista -- just don't make it any fatter.

Kernel thread count: This is a tough one. With XP, the thread count hovered around 57. With Vista, it jumped to more than 90. It's my theory that this, more than any other factor, is why OfficeBench runs roughly 40 percent slower on Vista than XP, even when every conceivable background service and UI goody switched off. There's simply more stuff going on in kernel mode under Vista, and this is why Microsoft needs to keep thread growth in check.

Boot time: Microsoft made all sorts of promises about improved boot times under Vista. What we got instead was an OS that, in many cases, takes twice as long to boot as Windows XP. And it only seems to get worse the longer you use it. Rebooting my laptop today in the Emirates lounge at Dubai airport took me nearly 5 minutes -- 3 minutes just to reach the log-in screen, and another 2 minutes before the disk settled down to a point where I could launch Outlook.

Granted, I have several items loading at log-in, including Daemon Tools, CubeDesktop and Free Download Manager (all members of my top 10 list). But still, 3 minutes to get to a log-in prompt? On a 4GB dual-core notebook with a 7,200-rpm disk? That's simply unacceptable. Microsoft needs to fix this with Windows 7 -- whether by finding ways to improve the Delayed Start mode for services or by further eliminating the myriad dependencies that force the programs that you want to run to load unnecessary extra libraries that having nothing to do with the task at hand.

Disk footprint: With Vista, especially the Ultimate version, Microsoft throws everything but the kitchen sink onto your primary boot disk. In fact, Vista's massive disk footprint is one of the reasons why I hate virtualizing this version of Windows. It's not uncommon to encounter Vista VMs with disk images in the 10GB to 15GB range, making the task of moving them from storage device to storage device that much more difficult. And though I can trim Vista's footprint somewhat using tools like vLite, the approach is technically unsupported. Microsoft needs to provide comparable, supported functionality in Windows 7, perhaps by ripping out some of the useless freebies (Movie Maker, that means you) that clog up my hard disk.

The above are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I'll be paying close attention to the session track at PDC in the hopes of identifying the kinds of architectural changes that spell trouble for Windows 7. Stay tuned!

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