Why Windows Vista Won’t Suck
Many users view Windows XP (and Windows 2000, and previous Windows versions) as unsafe. No matter how many patches and updates Microsoft releases, the foundation of the OS itself—the kernel—is designed and built in a way that prevents it from being truly secure. The only solution, it is argued, is to redesign and rebuild the kernel with a focus on security and stability.
Well, that’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with Vista. The whole kernel has been reorganized and rewritten to help prevent software from affecting the system in unsavory ways. In Vista, it should be much more difficult for unauthorized programs (like Viruses and Trojans) to affect the core of the OS and secretly harm your system.
That’s not all, of course. Microsoft has made it their aim to make life easier on developers by improving and simplifying the way software interfaces with the system and the underlying hardware. Naturally, performance has been a major concern, too.
Take, for example, heaps. Most Windows XP users don’t know what a «heap» is (it deals with how developers allocate memory and make memory requests), but there are problems in Windows XP when developers deal with large heaps, heap fragmentation, etc. In the Vista kernel, they have cleaned that up, helping to prevent heap fragmentation and gracefully deal with large heap requests. If that sounds like a bunch of technobabble nonsense, don’t worry. You don’t have to know what it means, you just have to know that it makes life easier on developers and improves performance. And it doesn’t stop with heaps. Lots of relatively little, commonly-used functions have been improved, like procedure calls.
Then there’s power management. System power management queries between system drivers and the OS have gotten a major overhaul, so it should be easier for hardware vendors to make their devices work in low-power environments and seamlessly work with power-saving features like Hibernation and Sleep Mode. «What is Sleep Mode?» you ask? On desktop systems, turning off the power will, by default, put your computer in Sleep Mode, where all the data currently in use is saved to both RAM and the hard drive, and then turns everything off except for a few key components (CPU, RAM, a few chipset features).
Move the mouse or press a key and the computer «boots» in a few seconds. In reality, your computer never turned off, it just went into a super-low-power mode. On laptops, Sleep Mode works much the same way when you hit the power button or close the lid, except it doesn’t take the time to double-save everything to a hard disk. Instead, it monitors battery life in the ultra-low-power Sleep Mode and, when the battery gets low, transfers the RAM contents to the hard disk. It’s like Hibernate mode, only faster.
A key improvement to the root file system and memory management of Vista is a technology called SuperFetch. SuperFetch learns which applications and bits and pieces of the OS you use most and preloads them into memory, so you don’t have to wait for a bunch of hard drive paging before your apps or documents load. Microsoft has developed a pretty sophisticated prioritization scheme that can even differentiate which applications you are most likely to use at different times (on the weekend vs. during the week, or late at night vs. in the middle of the afternoon).
The scheme is also smart enough to make sure background tasks like virus scanners don’t get priority over the foreground tasks you’re working on. In fact, the whole I/O system now has a priority structure not that different from services, so your computer shouldn’t bog down when some peer-to-peer file trading program has to do a hash check on a big file or something. SuperFetch also takes advantage of external memory devices—plug in that spare 256MB USB key (any size will work, really) and Windows can cache a lot of the working set to it. It’s not as fast as your system RAM, but it’s much faster than randomly grabbing small bits of data from all over your hard drive.