WinHEC: Microsoft promises better battery life, faster boot times in Windows 7

Vista's successor will use less memory, run nimbly on netbooks, Microsoft execs say

Tackling customer complaints that the Windows Vista operating system is sluggish and power-hungry, Microsoft Corp. today promised that Vista's successor, Windows 7, will use less memory and power than its predecessor, and will start up and shut down more quickly, among other improvements.

Windows 7 will also recognize connected devices more quickly and accurately than Vista does, and it will run nimbly on low-cost netbook PCs, said senior executives during a keynote speech kicking off Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC).

Despite being built on the same code base as Vista, Windows 7 should be able to boot up several seconds faster than Vista does because it loads device drivers in parallel rather than one by one, and it cuts the number of services that are started when the PC is turned on, said senior vice president for Microsoft's Windows Core Operating System division, Jon DeVaan.

Windows 7 will use less memory than Vista as more application windows are opened up by "letting the video card do its job so we don't have to manage" the windows, DeVaan said.

Vista also "didn't do a good job of letting the CPU get to idle and stay idle," DeVaan said. Windows 7 has improvements in the kernel so that the CPU runs at a lower frequency and stays idle longer. The net result is that Windows 7 will offer an improvement in battery life of up to 11% over Vista, he said.

Reminiscent of the tone of last week's keynote at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, DeVaan sounded an apologetic tone in his presentation to the thousands of attendees, who are mostly engineers at or other employees of Windows PC and device manufacturers.

"When we shipped Vista, we immediately started getting quite a lot of feedback from customers, bloggers and yes, even some TV commercials, about reliability and performance improvements in Vista. Their concerns were quite real," DeVaan said.

To fix this, Microsoft plans to "give you reliable pre-release builds, so that you can do the dirty work and also have the confidence that when we say we will ship Windows 7 on a certain date, you'll believe us," DeVaan said. That should "make Windows 7's first day a lot smoother from an ecosystem standpoint."

Microsoft plans to broadly release a feature-complete beta of Windows 7 early next year, according to Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live engineering.

Sinofsky and Mike Angiulo, general manager of the Windows PC planning and PC ecosystem team, demonstrated an Asus Eee netbook that ran Windows 7 even though it had just 1GB of RAM and a 16GB solid-state drive for storage.

"Yes, we expect Windows 7 to run well on netbooks," said corporate vice president for Windows product management, Mike Nash, in a separate interview.

They also showed how connecting a device to a Windows 7 PC results in a thumbnail of the exact product popping up instantly.

Clicking on the device pops up a small window that Microsoft calls DeviceStage. DeviceStage can be used by the device manufacturer to offer customer service aids, such as how-to documents or links to live customer service chat sessions, or to sell subscriptions or add-on products.

Microsoft executives emphasized that the improvements to Windows 7 will only come to fruition if hardware makers -- both PC vendors and device makers -- certify and test their products for Windows 7 compatibility.

Poor software and driver compatibility were major problems for Vista.

Nash evinced no fear that hardware partners may skimp on testing and certification because of recession-related cutbacks.

"Most of our partners, though not all, are managing for the long term," he said.

Microsoft executives said they are well aware that improvements in areas such as laptop battery life can be undercut by third-party devices that inadvertently drain the hardware. But they have no plans to offer stronger carrots or sticks to encourage or force device makers to comply with Windows 7 requirements.

"Force is a strong word," Nash said. "We are simplifying our programs to make it easier for them to partake. It's not so much about using incentives or penalties to get companies on board."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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