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Welcome to our blog dedicated to the engineering of Microsoft Windows 7
We’ve blogged about a number of features related to home networking and media in Windows 7. A scenario which brings all these together in a pretty cool way is Media Streaming. This scenario allows you to use a Windows 7 PC as a hub for media sharing—where you can share media with other PCs and devices on your home network via streaming, and even stream this information securely over the internet. Scott Manchester on the Devices & Media program management team coordinated this post, but as you will see it represents work across the Core User Experience, Media Center, Networking, and even Windows Live chose to take advantage of the new APIs in this scenario. This is a pretty detailed post and there’s a lot to try out. Those of you using the RC to test things out, you can always install on another PC and use it for the 30-day period without requiring a new PID key. Have fun! --Steven
Windows 7 includes a number of exciting new media streaming features that enable you to enjoy your media collection on other PCs and devices in the home and while on the road from across the internet. We’ve created a networked media experience that is more friendly to use and simpler to set up. Now enjoying music, pictures, and video on your network connected PC or media device “just works” without concern for media formats, transports, or protocols.
There are a growing number of Network Media Devices (NMDs) certified to interoperate using an open and widely embraced industry standard called the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). Windows 7 implements this open standard, which means that sharing media between NMDs, Windows PCs, Windows Home Server, and Extenders for Windows Media Center (including Xbox 360) is easier and more natural. Supporting this standard also means that the myriad of NMDs such as electronic picture frames, network radios, televisions, and others are companions to Windows 7 PCs and may seamlessly participate in the whole-home media experience.
We made it much simpler to configure media streaming. Before Windows 7, media streaming features were focused on media enthusiasts. To improve the setup experience, media streaming has been integrated with the new HomeGroup feature so in a typical home network configuration, media streaming is enabled and works by default. There is also a new “Stream” menu prominently displayed in the Window Media Player user interface (see figure below) that exposes simple scenario-based configuration options. These options allow you to:
Each of these scenarios will be discussed throughout this post.
HomeGroup introduces the concept of “shared libraries” for music, pictures, and video. As described in a previous blog post, these shared libraries are accessible from within the navigation pane of Windows Explorer and Windows Media Player, and from the “shared” view of each media category within Windows Media Center (see figures below). The scope of these libraries is the same from each of these views.
Windows Explorer will automatically discover and provide access to shared media libraries on other HomeGroup PCs. In addition, Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center will automatically discover shared libraries from:
A HomeGroup is a secured set of Windows 7 PCs that can view and consume each other’s media seamlessly. Sharing is automatically set up among HomeGroup PCs and HomeGroup settings allow you to choose what types of media you would like to share; for example, you may choose to only share your music library and not your video or pictures.
In addition to all HomeGroup PCs being able to access your media, we made it easy to allow devices to access shared media libraries on Windows 7 PCs. This can be done conveniently from either HomeGroup settings or within Windows Media Player:
You can also choose to restrict which specific PCs or devices have access to your media by choosing “more streaming options…” from the Windows Media Player “Stream” menu.
In addition to playing media streamed from other shared media libraries within Windows Media Player, Windows 7 can now send media to be played on other Windows 7 PCs and DLNA-certified digital media renderers. We call this feature “Play To.” With “Play To,” you can browse or search from within Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer to find your desired media, and then choose where you want it to be played. A versatile remote control window is presented for each “Play To” session, providing you with the ability to control the entire experience.
It does not matter where media collections are stored. “Play To” is available for both local media libraries and for shared media libraries. If you would like to send media from one Windows 7 PC to another, choose “Allow remote control of my Player” from the Windows Media Player “Stream” menu on the receiving PC. This will cause Windows Media Player to be discovered in the “Play To” menu of other Windows 7 PCs on the same network.
When media streaming is enabled on your Windows 7 PC, “Play To” will be available in Windows Media Player and Windows Explorer via the right click menu for media items. If Windows 7 has not discovered a “Play To” capable PC or device on the network, this context menu will not be available. DLNA provides guidelines to certify different device categories and roles. Not every DLNA-certified device supports the “Play To” feature. Look for DLNA-certified Digital Media Renderers (DMR), and for the best performance, look for DMR devices that carry the “Compatible with Windows 7” logo.
Once you’ve selected media items to play on another PC or device, a “Play To” remote control window will launch providing standard controls like play, pause, stop, skip forward and backward, seek forward and backward, volume, and mute. Not every device will support all of the control features and some media types may not support seek. Once the “Play To” remote control window is launched, you can reorder or delete items, add to the queue, or toggle repeat. It’s even possible to add new media items from Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer by dragging them into this window.
There is no artificial limit to the number of “Play To” sessions you can launch. You may send pictures to a picture frame, video clips to a TV, and music to another Windows 7 laptop all at the same time. Furthermore, different types of media can be sent to a single destination, as shown in the example above.
Xbox 360 has two ways to receive media streams from other Windows 7 PCs, which we refer to casually as “dashboard” mode and “extender” mode.
In dashboard mode, Xbox 360 functions in the role of a simple media player. While it’s not officially a DLNA-certified device, you can use Xbox 360 to browse the shared media libraries from Windows 7 PCs (there is also support for this in Windows Media Player 11) and pull content from those libraries for playback within the dashboard.
In extender mode, Xbox 360 (and other Extenders for Windows Media Center) is seen by Windows 7 PC’s on the network as both a Digital Media Player (DMP) and a Digital Media Renderer (DMR) device. Using the Extender for Windows Media Center on the Xbox 360, you can browse media libraries on other computers and pull that content for local playback, similar to the process of using Xbox 360 in dashboard mode. However, in extender mode Xbox 360 will also support “Play To” so that users of Windows 7 PC’s on the network can push content to it. All extenders, when associated with a Windows 7 PC, will be discovered in the “Play To” menu of other Windows 7 PCs.
With Windows 7 we’ve also extended the media streaming experience outside the home and allow you to access your home media from anywhere in the world via the internet. We’ve made media streaming over the internet a natural extension of the experience within the home. For the experience to be seamless we needed to solve some significant technical challenges, such as:
To overcome these technical hurdles, we designed a model that uses an Online ID Provider to help facilitate discovery, privacy, and security. The new Online ID Provider infrastructure in Windows 7 allows you to link your Online ID (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) with your Windows user account. This enables an authentication/authorization server to provide the necessary privacy to establish a protected link between two Windows 7 PCs (e.g. your laptop on the road and your PC at home). Internet access to home media is enabled from the “Stream” menu in Windows Media Player.
The setup process walks you through linking an online ID with your Windows user account, which must be performed on both the home PC and remote PC. The same online ID must be used on both PCs in order to establish the connection between them. In order for remote PCs to access the home media collection, the PC at home (acting as a server) must be on a “Home” network location. Remote PCs (acting as clients) can browse and receive content streamed from the home PC from any network location (Public, Work, or Home). The network location is chosen when first connecting to any network and can be changed later from the Network and Sharing Center.
Streaming media over the internet from home works best with an “always on” broadband connection. Broadband uplink speeds vary from a modest 200Kbps to 10Mbps or more. Downlink connection speeds will also vary from crowded hotspots, hotel rooms, and wireless network connections in friends’ homes. Regardless of the uplink or downlink speeds, we wanted to ensure that even high bit rate content (e.g. high definition recorded TV) could be streamed with a good experience. The internet media streaming feature uses advanced bandwidth detection algorithms and end-to-end network heuristics to determine how to stream content that is at a higher bit rate than the smallest link in the network path.
Another challenge with internet access to home media is creating a peer-to-peer connection between the remote client PC and the home PC serving the media. A typical home network will get a single unique IP address from an internet service provider, and this IP address is shared by all the devices and PCs in the home using Network Address Translation (NAT), a function of an Internet Gateway Device (IGD) or Wireless Router. This creates a challenge for a remote PC or device to make an unsolicited connection inside the home, both in terms of resolving the home’s unique IP address and traversing the NAT to communicate directly to a unique PC or device on the home network.
Windows 7 employs some advanced NAT traversal technologies to establish the peer-to-peer connection and, with most IGDs, will allow a reliable connection to the home PC from any remote PC. For best results you should use a wireless router or IGD that has been certified by the Windows Logo program.
In Windows 7 we let you enjoy the media you want and don’t trouble you with the need to know about file types or codecs in most cases. (For more details, see Table 1 below). In addition to supporting local playback of new formats, we can also ensure that the content will play on devices that may not support the codec, bit rate, container, or format of that content. We accomplish this by using the new transcoding support in Windows 7.
Let’s say for instance you have a DivX movie you want to watch on your new DLNA certified television which only supports WMV and MPEG2. Windows 7 will determine the capability of the TV (codec, bit rate, etc.) and dynamically convert the DivX video to a format the TV can play. The general rule of thumb is: if Windows Media Player can play the content on the PC then the content will almost always play back on the network connected device. Bandwidth estimation techniques are used for media streaming within the home and over the internet, which enables Windows 7 to transcode using the most optimal format and bit rate.
Table 1: New Decoders in Windows 7
Table 1: New Decoders in Windows 7
The format and bit rate chosen for transcoding, especially for video, is highly dependent on the CPU performance of the transcoding PC as identified by its Windows Experience Index:
We also created a flexible model for silicon partners to provide hardware accelerators that automatically work with media streaming and other Windows 7 features. This new acceleration model allows hardware developers to build media foundation proxies for media format encoders and decoders that are fully implemented in their hardware (perhaps in a GPU or additional hardware device). With hardware supported encoding and decoding, Windows 7 can offload the computationally demanding transcoding to dedicated hardware as a background task without affecting the CPU performance of the PC.
The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) is a consortium of more than 200 companies interested in specifying technologies for exchanging media in home networks. The DLNA architecture is based on the UPnP specification, but in addition, DLNA specifies transport protocols (based on HTTP and RTP) and sets of media formats.
DLNA defines device roles (e.g. servers, players, renderers, etc.) and the protocols that these devices use to discover each other and communicate with each other (e.g. UPnP, HTTP, RTP, etc.). Windows 7 implements several of the DLNA device roles (see table 2 below) and it also implements the DLNA protocols required for communications and media exchange. With Windows 7, your PC will be able to interoperate with a broad variety of DLNA certified devices like TVs, stereo systems, cell phones, DVRs, game consoles, etc.
Table 2: DLNA Device Profiles Supported by Windows 7
Table 2: DLNA Device Profiles Supported by Windows 7
Because Windows 7 implements several device roles, there are different ways in which you could choose to use a Windows 7 PC at home. The remainder of this section explains the different scenarios.
Scenario 1: You store your music, video, and pictures on a Windows 7 PC. You’ve recently acquired a TV with a DLNA logo. Using the TV, you can browse the media library available on the Windows 7 PC. You can use the TV to watch the video and pictures, and listen to music stored on the PC. Figure 1 illustrates this scenario. In this case, the Windows 7 PC behaves as a DMS. Notice that this scenario was already available in Windows Vista and in Windows XP using Windows Media Player 11.
Figure 1: The TV unit browses and plays content stored in a PC
Figure 1: The TV unit browses and plays content stored in a PC
Scenario 2: You have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device where you store your music, video, and pictures. The NAS device implements a DMS. You open Windows Media Player on a Windows 7 PC. You can find the NAS device using Windows Media Player, and you can browse the media library available on the NAS device. You can watch the video or pictures, and listen to music stored on the NAS device. Figure 2 illustrates this scenario. In this case, the Windows 7 PC behaves as a DMP.
Figure 2: A Windows 7 PC browses and plays content stored on a NAS device
Figure 2: A Windows 7 PC browses and plays content stored on a NAS device
Scenario 3: You have a cell phone that not only takes pictures but can push the pictures to a Windows 7 PC. You can show the pictures to your friends using the large-screen display of the PC without the need to physically transfer the files to the PC with a USB thumb drive, for example. Figure 3 illustrates this scenario. In this case, the cell phone acts as a DMS and a DMC and the Windows 7 PC behaves as a DMR.
Figure 3: A cell phone pushes pictures for display on a Windows7 PC
Figure 3: A cell phone pushes pictures for display on a Windows7 PC
Scenario 4: You’ve acquired a stereo system with the DLNA logo. On his Windows 7 PC, you’ve accumulated a vast collection of music with thousands of songs. Because your collection is large, you prefer to search, organize, and select songs using the rich capabilities of the Windows Media Player. Once you select the songs, you simply push the songs to your stereo system using “Play To.” You also have a NAS device containing an additional collection of music and video. You can use the Windows 7 PC to browse the content on the NAS device and push it to the stereo system. Figure 4 illustrates this scenario. In this case, the Windows 7 PC behaves as a DMS and a DMC.
Figure 4: A Windows 7 PC browses local content or shared content on the network. The PC then pushes the content for playback in a TV unit (DMR).
Figure 4: A Windows 7 PC browses local content or shared content on the network. The PC then pushes the content for playback in a TV unit (DMR).
There's definitely a lot to enjoy here. Have fun!!
-- Scott, Tim and the Devices & Media team
There’s a lot of excitement around the potential for the widespread adoption of solid-state drives (SSD) for primary storage, particularly on laptops and also among many folks in the server world. As with any new technology, as it is introduced we often need to revisit the assumptions baked into the overall system (OS, device support, applications) as a result of the performance characteristics of the technologies in use. This post looks at the way we have tuned Windows 7 to the current generation of SSDs. This is a rapidly moving area and we expect that there will continue to be ways we will tune Windows and we also expect the technology to continue to evolve, perhaps introducing new tradeoffs or challenging other underlying assumptions. Michael Fortin authored this post with help from many folks across the storage and fundamentals teams. --Steven
Many of today’s Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer the promise of improved performance, more consistent responsiveness, increased battery life, superior ruggedness, quicker startup times, and noise and vibration reductions. With prices dropping precipitously, most analysts expect more and more PCs to be sold with SSDs in place of traditional rotating hard disk drives (HDDs).
In Windows 7, we’ve focused a number of our engineering efforts with SSD operating characteristics in mind. As a result, Windows 7’s default behavior is to operate efficiently on SSDs without requiring any customer intervention. Before delving into how Windows 7’s behavior is automatically tuned to work efficiently on SSDs, a brief overview of SSD operating characteristics is warranted.
SSDs tend to be very fast for random reads. Most SSDs thoroughly trounce traditionally HDDs because the mechanical work required to position a rotating disk head isn’t required. As a result, the better SSDs can perform 4 KB random reads almost 100 times faster than the typical HDD (about 1/10th of a millisecond per read vs. roughly 10 milliseconds).
Sequential read and write operations range between quite good to superb. Because flash chips can be configured in parallel and data spread across the chips, today’s better SSDs can read sequentially at rates greater than 200 MB/s, which is close to double the rate many 7200 RPM drives can deliver. For sequential writes, we see some devices greatly exceeding the rates of typical HDDs, and most SSDs doing fairly well in comparison. In today’s market, there are still considerable differences in sequential write rates between SSDs. Some greatly outperform the typical HDD, others lag by a bit, and a few are poor in comparison.
The differences in sequential write rates are interesting to note, but for most users they won’t make for as notable a difference in overall performance as random writes.
What’s a long time for a random write? Well, an average HDD can typically move 4 KB random writes to its spinning media in 7 to 15 milliseconds, which has proven to be largely unacceptable. As a result, most HDDs come with 4, 8 or more megabytes of internal memory and attempt to cache small random writes rather than wait the full 7 to 15 milliseconds. When they do cache a write, they return success to the OS even though the bytes haven’t been moved to the spinning media. We typically see these cached writes completing in a few hundred microseconds (so 10X, 20X or faster than actually writing to spinning media). In looking at millions of disk writes from thousands of telemetry traces, we observe 92% of 4 KB or smaller IOs taking less than 1 millisecond, 80% taking less than 600 microseconds, and an impressive 48% taking less than 200 microseconds. Caching works!
On occasion, we’ll see HDDs struggle with bursts of random writes and flushes. Drives that cache too much for too long and then get caught with too much of a backlog of work to complete when a flush comes along, have proven to be problematic. These flushes and surrounding IOs can have considerably lengthened response times. We’ve seen some devices take a half second to a full second to complete individual IOs and take 10’s of seconds to return to a more consistently responsive state. For the user, this can be awful to endure as responsiveness drops to painful levels. Think of it, the response time for a single I/O can range from 200 microseconds up to a whopping 1,000,000 microseconds (1 second).
When presented with realistic workloads, we see the worst of the SSDs producing very long IO times as well, as much as one half to one full second to complete individual random write and flush requests. This is abysmal for many workloads and can make the entire system feel choppy, unresponsive and sluggish.
For many, the notion that a purely electronic SSD can have more trouble with random writes than a traditional HDD seems hard to comprehend at first. After all, SSDs don’t need to seek and position a disk head above a track on a rotating disk, so why would random writes present such a daunting a challenge?
The answer to this takes quite a bit of explaining, Anand’s article admirably covers many of the details. We highly encourage motivated folks to take the time to read it as well as this fine USENIX paper. In an attempt to avoid covering too much of the same material, we’ll just make a handful of points.
As mentioned above, flash blocks and cells need to be erased before new bytes can be written to them. As a result, newly purchased devices (with all flash blocks pre-erased) can perform notably better at purchase time than after considerable use. While we’ve observed this performance degradation ourselves, we do not consider this to be a show stopper. In fact, except via benchmarking measurements, we don’t expect users to notice the drop during normal use.
Of course, device manufactures and Microsoft want to maintain superior performance characteristics as best we can. One can easily imagine the better SSD manufacturers attempting to overcome the aging issues by pre-erasing blocks so the performance penalty is largely unrealized during normal use, or by maintaining a large enough spare area to store short bursts of writes. SSD drives designed for the enterprise may have as high as 50% of their space reserved in order to provide lengthy periods of high sustained write performance.
In addition to the above, Microsoft and SSD manufacturers are adopting the Trim operation. In Windows 7, if an SSD reports it supports the Trim attribute of the ATA protocol’s Data Set Management command, the NTFS file system will request the ATA driver to issue the new operation to the device when files are deleted and it is safe to erase the SSD pages backing the files. With this information, an SSD can plan to erase the relevant blocks opportunistically (and lazily) in the hope that subsequent writes will not require a blocking erase operation since erased pages are available for reuse.
As an added benefit, the Trim operation can help SSDs reduce wear by eliminating the need for many merge operations to occur. As an example, consider a single 128 KB SSD block that contained a 128 KB file. If the file is deleted and a Trim operation is requested, then the SSD can avoid having to mix bytes from the SSD block with any other bytes that are subsequently written to that block. This reduces wear.
Windows 7 requests the Trim operation for more than just file delete operations. The Trim operation is fully integrated with partition- and volume-level commands like Format and Delete, with file system commands relating to truncate and compression, and with the System Restore (aka Volume Snapshot) feature.
As noted above, all of today’s SSDs have considerable work to do when presented with disk writes and disk flushes. Windows 7 tends to perform well on today’s SSDs, in part, because we made many engineering changes to reduce the frequency of writes and flushes. This benefits traditional HDDs as well, but is particularly helpful on today’s SSDs.
Windows 7 will disable disk defragmentation on SSD system drives. Because SSDs perform extremely well on random read operations, defragmenting files isn’t helpful enough to warrant the added disk writing defragmentation produces. The FAQ section below has some additional details.
Be default, Windows 7 will disable Superfetch, ReadyBoost, as well as boot and application launch prefetching on SSDs with good random read, random write and flush performance. These technologies were all designed to improve performance on traditional HDDs, where random read performance could easily be a major bottleneck. See the FAQ section for more details.
Since SSDs tend to perform at their best when the operating system’s partitions are created with the SSD’s alignment needs in mind, all of the partition-creating tools in Windows 7 place newly created partitions with the appropriate alignment.
Before addressing some frequently asked questions, we’d like to remind everyone that we believe the future of SSDs in mobile and desktop PCs (as well as enterprise servers) looks very bright to us. SSDs can deliver on the promise of improved performance, more consistent responsiveness, increased battery life, superior ruggedness, quicker startup times, and noise and vibration reductions. With prices steadily dropping and quality on the rise, we expect more and more PCs to be sold with SSDs in place of traditional rotating HDDs. With that in mind, we focused an appropriate amount of our engineering efforts towards insuring Windows 7 users have great experiences on SSDs.
Will Windows 7 support Trim?
Yes. See the above section for details.
Will disk defragmentation be disabled by default on SSDs?
Yes. The automatic scheduling of defragmentation will exclude partitions on devices that declare themselves as SSDs. Additionally, if the system disk has random read performance characteristics above the threshold of 8 MB/sec, then it too will be excluded. The threshold was determined by internal analysis.
The random read threshold test was added to the final product to address the fact that few SSDs on the market today properly identify themselves as SSDs. 8 MB/sec is a relatively conservative rate. While none of our tested HDDs could approach 8 MB/sec, all of our tested SSDs exceeded that threshold. SSD performance ranged between 11 MB/sec and 130 MB/sec. Of the 182 HDDs tested, only 6 configurations managed to exceed 2 MB/sec on our random read test. The other 176 ranged between 0.8 MB/sec and 1.6 MB/sec.
Will Superfetch be disabled on SSDs?
Yes, for most systems with SSDs.
If the system disk is an SSD, and the SSD performs adequately on random reads and doesn’t have glaring performance issues with random writes or flushes, then Superfetch, boot prefetching, application launch prefetching, ReadyBoost and ReadDrive will all be disabled.
Initially, we had configured all of these features to be off on all SSDs, but we encountered sizable performance regressions on some systems. In root causing those regressions, we found that some first generation SSDs had severe enough random write and flush problems that ultimately lead to disk reads being blocked for long periods of time. With Superfetch and other prefetching re-enabled, performance on key scenarios was markedly improved.
Is NTFS Compression of Files and Directories recommended on SSDs?
Compressing files help save space, but the effort of compressing and decompressing requires extra CPU cycles and therefore power on mobile systems. That said, for infrequently modified directories and files, compression is a fine way to conserve valuable SSD space and can be a good tradeoff if space is truly a premium.
We do not, however, recommend compressing files or directories that will be written to with great frequency. Your Documents directory and files are likely to be fine, but temporary internet directories or mail folder directories aren’t such a good idea because they get large number of file writes in bursts.
Does the Windows Search Indexer operate differently on SSDs?
Is Bitlocker’s encryption process optimized to work on SSDs?
Yes, on NTFS. When Bitlocker is first configured on a partition, the entire partition is read, encrypted and written back out. As this is done, the NTFS file system will issue Trim commands to help the SSD optimize its behavior.
We do encourage users concerned about their data privacy and protection to enable Bitlocker on their drives, including SSDs.
Does Media Center do anything special when configured on SSDs?
No. While SSDs do have advantages over traditional HDDs, SSDs are more costly per GB than their HDD counterparts. For most users, a HDD optimized for media recording is a better choice, as media recording and playback workloads are largely sequential in nature.
Does Write Caching make sense on SSDs and does Windows 7 do anything special if an SSD supports write caching?
Some SSD manufacturers including RAM in their devices for more than just their control logic; they are mimicking the behavior of traditional disks by caching writes, and possibly reads. For devices that do cache writes in volatile memory, Windows 7 expects flush commands and write-ordering to be preserved to at least the same degree as traditional rotating disks. Additionally, Windows 7 expects user settings that disable write caching to be honored by write caching SSDs just as they are on traditional disks.
Do RAID configurations make sense with SSDs?
Yes. The reliability and performance benefits one can obtain via HDD RAID configurations can be had with SSD RAID configurations.
Should the pagefile be placed on SSDs?
Yes. Most pagefile operations are small random reads or larger sequential writes, both of which are types of operations that SSDs handle well.
In looking at telemetry data from thousands of traces and focusing on pagefile reads and writes, we find that
In fact, given typical pagefile reference patterns and the favorable performance characteristics SSDs have on those patterns, there are few files better than the pagefile to place on an SSD.
Are there any concerns regarding the Hibernate file and SSDs?
No, hiberfile.sys is written to and read from sequentially and in large chunks, and thus can be placed on either HDDs or SSDs.
What Windows Experience Index changes were made to address SSD performance characteristics?
In Windows 7, there are new random read, random write and flush assessments. Better SSDs can score above 6.5 all the way to 7.9. To be included in that range, an SSD has to have outstanding random read rates and be resilient to flush and random write workloads.
In the Beta timeframe of Windows 7, there was a capping of scores at 1.9, 2.9 or the like if a disk (SSD or HDD) didn’t perform adequately when confronted with our random write and flush assessments. Feedback on this was pretty consistent, with most feeling the level of capping to be excessive. As a result, we now simply restrict SSDs with performance issues from joining the newly added 6.0+ and 7.0+ ranges. SSDs that are not solid performers across all assessments effectively get scored in a manner similar to what they would have been in Windows Vista, gaining no Win7 boost for great random read performance.
We’ve been quite busy for the past two months or so working through all the feedback we’ve received on Windows 7. It should be no surprise but the Release Candidate for Windows 7 will have quite a few changes, many under the hood so to speak but also many visible. Some have asked if the featureset is "frozen" then what will we change--we change a lot of things in the beta based on feedback and we try to do so in a systematic manner with the focus on the goals for the release. The goal of having a fully functional Beta was to make sure we received reliable feedback and not a lot of "hey this doesn't work at all" sorts of reports. This has allowed us to really focus on delivering a refined RC where the changes we made are all the reflection of feedback we have received.
Building on the previous post that looked at the broad view of feedback, we want to start posting on the feedback and the engineering actions we’ve taken in responding to the feedback. We won’t be able to cover all the changes (as we’re still busy making them), but for today we wanted to start with a sampling of some of the more visible changes. We’re still on the same path working towards the release candidate and of course we know everyone is anxious for the next phase of our path to RTM. In the meantime, our full time machines are still running the Beta build.
Today’s post is from Chaitanya, who has previously posted on some of the core user interface work. --Steven
This blog post talks about a few of the improvements that will be in our Release Candidate (RC) based upon customer feedback. There are many under the hood changes (bug fixes, compatibility fixes, performance improvements, and improvements) across the entire dev team that we just don’t have room to discuss here, but we thought you’d enjoy a taste of some changes made by three of our feature teams: Core User Experience, Find & Organize and Devices & Media. The comments in this article come from a variety of verbatim sources, with identifying information withheld.
1. Windows Flip (ALT + TAB) with Aero Peek
We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback about Aero Peek and how it helps customers switch windows with increased confidence. Daniel wrote to tell us “I’m wondering why Peek was never implemented for the ALT + TAB window. The thumbnails look/behave the same way as the taskbar thumbnails when you hover the mouse over them. It seems logical that they would exhibit the peek behavior, too”. We decided to make this change since we heard many requests for it. One can still quickly flip between and cycle through running windows using the ALT+TAB keys, but when more window information is needed Aero Peek will appear. This is triggered by a time delay as you pause while keyboarding through running windows.
Aero Peek triggered from Windows Flip (ALT+TAB)
2. Windows Logo + <#> keyboard shortcut
Enthusiasts often ask us for more keyboard shortcuts to simplify their common tasks. Efficiency is key. We’ve answered with a very powerful new keyboard shortcut for the taskbar that may just alienate mice everywhere. Pressing Windows Logo + <#> (where <#> corresponds to an item’s order in Quick Launch) in Vista would simply launch the item. As part of our unification of Quick Launch with the taskband in Windows 7, we now beef up the shortcut so it can both launch and switch. For example, if IE wasn’t running in Fig 1 then Windows Logo + 2 will launch the program (as it did in Vista). If IE is running with a single window, the same shortcut will now switch to the program. The magic really begins when IE is running with several windows or tabs—holding down the Windows Logo and tapping the 2 key repeatedly will actually cycle through the open IE items off the taskbar (with Aero Peek, of course). Letting go simply switches to the corresponding window. Think of this as per-program ALT +TAB shortcut for the first 10 items on the taskbar. If you need a new instance for IE, simply use SHIFT + Windows Logo + <#>. A program’s Jump List may also be accessed via ALT+ Windows Logo + <#>. Finally, you can even flip back to the last active window of a program by using CTRL+ Windows Logo + <#> (this also works by holding CTRL with a mouse click on a taskbar button). Keyboard aficionados rejoice!
3. Needy State
“Needy window” is the internal term we use for a window that requires your attention. Since the ‘90s, the taskbar has always provided some type of visualization to alert the customer to this state such as by flashing the button. A careful balance must be struck between providing information and not irritating the customer. With the new taskbar, we received feedback that Outlook reminders or a Messenger chat sometimes went unnoticed because needy windows were too subtle. For example, Mudassir opened a bug to say “The flashing is not obvious enough to get user's attention. Sometime I don't even notice it. It flashes for a little bit and then stops. If I am away the icon flashes and stops before I come back. The icon is not noticeable.” We’ve made three changes that should address the issue. First, we changed the flashing animation curve to make it more noticeable (from a sine to a sawtooth wave). Second, we used a bolder orange color. Finally, we wanted to double the number of flashes which is currently set to three. As a nod to Windows 7, we decided to go with seven flashes instead.
4. Taskbar “Open With”
Quick Launch always supported the ability to drop a file onto a pinned program and have it open with that program. The new taskbar on the other hand, always treats a drop as a pin command. Drop a program and the program is pinned. Drop a file and the file will be pinned under its respective program’s Jump List and that program automatically gets pinned to the taskbar. It was important for us to keep drag/drop consistent. We believe that for most cases people will open files through the desktop by just double-clicking them or from the Jump List and the default program will open. However, there are some scenarios when a customer wants to open a certain file type with another program. We heard this feedback and decided to revive “Open With” drag/drop on the taskbar with a keyboard modifier. One can hold down SHIFT and drop the file on the desired program.
5. Taskbar scaling
We’ve reclaimed lots of space on the taskbar by unifying launching/switching, by collapsing open windows and by cleaning the notification area. Still, some have asked for even more room to pin the programs they use regularly. We’ve made a change to squeeze in 24-39% more icons before the taskbar scrolls; depending upon your resolution, icon size and assuming the default notification area. Table 1 illustrates the new button capacity before the taskbar begins to scroll as well as the capacity growth since Beta. We believe customers will find more than enough room to pin their common programs.
Maximum taskbar button capacity before scrolling
% Increase from Beta (large/small icons)
25% / 36%
25% / 38%
25% / 32%
24% / 39%
6. Anchoring taskbar thumbnails
Hovering or clicking on a taskbar button surfaces all the running windows for that program. Upon seeing a set of open thumbnails, Kozlow asked “How do I know which application has opened the thumbnails group?” In other words, the thumbnails didn’t appear visually connected to the taskbar. We made a visual update that now keeps the color hot-track effect on when the mouse is over a thumbnail. In fig 2 you can see that IE retains its blue Color Hot-track visual even though the mouse is over a thumbnail.
Color Hot-track stays active when the mouse hovers over taskbar thumbnails
7. Newly installed programs
“Customer in control” is so strong a mantra for Windows 7 we don’t even allow programs to pin themselves to the taskbar when they are installed. This is a task expressly reserved for the customer. We’ve gotten some requests to make this goal a bit easier so now when a program is installed, it is automatically and temporarily surfaced at the bottom of the Start Menu. The customer can easily discover this new addition, launch it directly and optionally drag it to the taskbar for convenient access in the future.
8. Jump List length
Jump Lists are proving to be a valuable tool to quickly jump to commonly access files, folders, links and tasks. Steve filed a bug in which he said “The whole point of the jump list is to make it easier to jump to your favorite locations. However, it doesn't save me time having to scan through a long list of frequent locations.” In other words, sometimes it’s hard to parse an item when the list gets too long. Our telemetry data informs us that in most cases customers are clicking on the first 10 items. Therefore, we’ve updated Jump Lists so that only a maximum of 10 items may be automatically suggested (this doesn’t apply to tasks or pinned items). Don’t worry—there’s even a setting for enthusiasts to customize the length of the list.
9. Increased pinning flexibility with Jump List
For organizational, scaling and identification purposes, the taskbar is designed to hold files, folders and links in a program’s Jump List. Items can only be pinned to the Jump List of programs registered to handle that file type. Based on feedback we’ve received we now allow one to pin items to a Jump List belonging to a program that isn’t registered to handle that file type. Better yet, pinning the item in most cases will create a new registration so that launching it from the Jump List will always open the file with that specific program. For example, one can pin an .HTML file to Notepad’s Jump List and when clicked on from the menu, the file will always open in Notepad even though IE by default handles the file type.
10. Desktop icon and gadget view options
Windows 7 makes gadgets far easier to manage, view and access by building them directly into the desktop. David’s feedback matches what others were telling us: “In Vista, I was able to hide desktop icons while my gadgets were still visible and available. I liked this feature in Vista, especially with all the icons that are constantly dropped on the desktop by app installers. I don't want to see the icons, but I still want to see my gadgets.” In Beta it was impossible to separate desktop icons from gadgets under the View setting available by right-clicking on the desktop. We made a change to afford independent control to each so that one can opt to hide just her gadgets or just her desktop icons.
11. Aero Peek for touch
We’re excited about Peek and we further refined its functionality. Our touch customers enjoy the benefits of direct manipulation, but inform us they feel left out of some of new functionality that’s available for the mouse and keyboard. We’ve made two improvements that spreads the love. First, the taskbar’s thumbnails now support a touch gesture so one can drag her finger across the UI and trigger Aero Peek. Also, the Show Desktop button is improved so a press-and-hold will allow the customer to peek at the desktop. A regular tap in both these scenarios still to commits the switch.
12. Multi-touch touch keyboard
A funny thing happens when one uses touch to interact with a software keyboard for the first time. The natural instinct is to press multiple buttons simultaneously like they do with a real keyboard. It’s quite reasonable to try to use SHIFT + <letter> to capitalize, for example. RC ushers in multi-touch support for the Touch Keyboard so that customers enjoy a more realistic experience.
13. Multi-touch right-click
People who are rely on touch give us mixed feelings towards tap and hold to bring up a context menu. This approach works, but it also involves a slight delay. We now have a fast new multi-touch gesture for right-click. Simply touch an item with one finger and use another finger to tap and summon a context menu.
14. Drag/Drop and selection
In Beta there was no discoverable way to select text in a website that scrolled both horizontally and vertically. Customers are now able to drag/drop and select items with touch, even inside scrolling pages. The new behavior is optimized for the two most common actions by touch customers—scrolling up and down and dragging left to right.
15. Internet access feedback
The new network experience from the taskbar’s notification area makes it much easier to find and connect to networks. People seem to also really like the wireless signal strength that is available at a glance. In our effort to simplify the experience we removed indications for some advanced scenarios. Based upon feedback, we’ve decided to introduce a new overlay icon which now reveals when there is a local connection without internet access.
16. User Account Control
If you’ve been following this blog, then you already know about a recent design change we’ve made that will prompt for any modification made to the UAC Control Panel. For more information, please refer to the earlier post on UAC Feedback and Follow-Up.
17. Locking a machine without a screensaver
It isn’t uncommon for IT administrators to want their corporate machines to auto-lock after a certain amount of time. In Beta, enabling this functionality required a screensaver to be set. We’ve since made a change to allow this functionality even when no screensaver is specified.
18. Faster access to High Performance power plan
Clicking on the battery flout from the taskbar notification area offers two different power plans: Balanced and Power saver. Windows 7 laptops are configured by default to use the Balanced plan since this setting best balances a good experience while promoting more environmentally friendly power use. However, some customers tell us they want to be able to quickly toggle between Balanced and High Performance (yet another power plan). We’ve taken a change to now show the latter in the flyout menu when it is enabled under the Power Options Control Panel.
19. Custom theme improvements
We’ve always known customers love personalizing their Windows experience. At the center of this expression of individuality are ingredients such as the desktop background, glass color, sounds and screensavers. In Windows 7 we’ve introduced themes that make it easy to enable a whole package of default combinations or for customers to save their own creations. However, during Beta we heard feedback along the lines of “I just changed my background or color and I see the change, but I thought it was saved when it really wasn’t”. We added text under each theme to not only aid in identification, but also to provide feedback on the state of a theme. The new “Unsaved Theme” text also ties better to the nearby “Save theme” command. These tweaks should make personalization a more predictable and enjoyable experience.
Windows Media Player
20. Improved Internet Radio playback
Internet radio playback continues to gain in popularity. We received feedback that sometimes playback of radio streams may be inconsistent depending on network conditions. It’s worth noting that our understanding of this issue was greatly helped by the broad scale of usage across so many customers and network topologies and our telemetry in the Beta. Windows Media Player has made changes to make streaming playback more reliable and resilient.
21. Improved playback support for video content from digital camcorders and cameras
Customers loved the increased range of formats natively supported by the Windows 7 Beta, but noticed areas where they wanted broader support. For example, one was unable to seek to a specific spot in the video in Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center for AVCHD content that was imported from a digital camcorder. We’ve addressed this. Also, while the support for video from some digital cameras worked great, we also got feedback about supporting a broader set of devices out of the box. We’ve since added support for Windows Media Player to natively support the .MOV files used to capture video for many common digital cameras.
22. Cleaner Now Playing view
Customers are sharing positive reviews of Media Player’s new light-weight Now Playing view. Still some have asked to make the experience even cleaner. We’ve responded with a visual update that is more lightweight and compact.
23. Filtering content that cannot be played
Media Player’s library view is designed to surface and showcase one’s content. However, in some cases items were displayed that couldn’t be played. For example, Apple’s lossless .M4A or .H263 MPEG-4 content would be shown in a library even though Media Player could not play them. In RC, this content will no longer appear in the library view so that there is better expectation of what is supported by the player.
24. Resume from sleep
Customers are used to resuming a CD or DVD after an interruption. With customers choosing new low-cost, smaller form-factor, machines without optical drives, an increasingly popular scenario is to have content played directly from the hard drive. In Beta, it was not possible to resume playback on such content after a laptop goes to sleep. Customers assume the experience should match that of physical media so we fixed the experience to meet this expectation.
25. Quieting Windows Media Player sync relationships
When Media Player is open and a portable media player or a USB drive is inserted, we trigger a dialog to determine whether a sync relationship should be created with the new device. Our original goal was to be proactive and help customers make a decision in context, but we received comments that this experience is jarring. As a result, we will no longer interrupt when the player is running. This is consistent with our “customer in control” goal of Windows 7 and we trust people can manually configure this should they wish to.
26. Easier access to advanced settings
What enthusiast doesn’t want to tweak her player settings? This was echoed by several comments so we’ve made it easier to access and adjust settings. The equalizer, play speed, SRS WOW and other options are now surfaced via the Now Playing context menu under Enhancements.
27. Jump List improvement
Media Player’s Jump List provides quick access to the content customers consume. The list becomes even more powerful and complete in the RC now that we also include items launched from Explorer.
28. Enriching the Device Stage ecosystem
Customers have been so positive about the new Device Stage experience, one of the biggest pieces of feedback we got was “Why aren’t even more of my devices supported?” We’ve taken that feedback to heart and then took the feedback to our IHV and OEM partners to get their support for more devices. Our hardware partners in turn asked us to make it easier to integrate with the Device Stage and we worked with them on improvements. Although Windows already supports tens of thousands of devices, customer feedback on the Beta introduces even more device support in RC via the new Device Stage experience.
29. Improving the headphone experience
Customers informed us that sometimes their audio streams did not properly move from the default speakers to their headphones. The fix required an update to the algorithm we use to detect new devices. In RC the transition works more reliably.
30. Increased audio reliability
In some cases people reported not having any audio device after installing Beta. The problem is that some audio hardware does not work out of the box with our inbox audio class driver. Amazingly there are over 26,000 custom audio drivers and while many are on Windows Update, many are still not. The Release Candidate tightens the Windows Logo test to better ensure clean install delivers baseline functionality for speakers and microphones. Furthermore, we will continue to populate Windows Update with frequently needed drivers.
Windows Explorer and Libraries
31. Improved header
It is great to see customers realize the convenience and power of libraries. Having files aggregated into one convenient view, without worrying where they are all physically located, simplifies many scenarios. The library header in Beta showed only a static string that reflected how many locations were represented as part of the library. We heard feedback that this wasn’t very clear and more importantly, customers preferred to have more information so that they could be better orientated themselves. The RC will introduce a new header that updates to reveal the subfolder as one browses a library. Furthermore, the “Arrange by” views are better expose in the upper right, in proximity of the other view and search controls.
32. Reduced confusion with drag/drop
The Release Candidate will remove the ability to drag/drop a folder into the Libraries node in the Explorer navigation pane. We know some liked this functionality to create a new library, but it also presented some serious design issues. For example, some were surprised to find a new library was created when their intent was to simply copy the folder. More seriously though, there were circumstances where people then deleted the original folder thinking it was already copied. Data loss is a grave concern of ours and we don’t want customers to suffer from such a mistake. Don’t worry though—one can still easily create a new library using the “New Library” or “Include in Library” commands in the Explorer command bar.
33. Reviving familiar entry points
Mando writes, “In Win7 the Win+E shortcut opens an explorer window but the path is “Libraries” instead (which isn’t where I want to go most of the time). Is there a way to configure the target folder of “Win+E” or is there an alternate shortcut that will get me to the “Computer” path like it did in Vista?” RC reverts the behavior and now the shortcut will launch the “Computer” Explorer. Also, we changed the link in Start Menu -> Username to match the Vista behavior.
34. FAT32 support
Local FAT32 hard disk drives were not support in libraries for Beta. RC libraries will now support non-removable FAT32 and NTFS hard disk drives thanks to the feedback we received.
35. Arrangement view enhancements
It’s been great to see people’s reaction to the arrangement views in libraries. Being able to browse using metadata certainly makes quick work of finding files. We’ve received many requests to further enhance the arrangement views in a variety of ways and we’ve made a number of changes in response to them. For starters, RC makes it easier to switch arrangement views—one can now do so directly from the view context menu, which is the familiar home of switching the view mode, sorting, and grouping. Second, the specific arrangement views themselves have been enhanced for RC. The “Month” and “Day” views in the Pictures library now group together both the pictures and videos taken on the same date, whereas previously the videos were split out into a separate group. The “Artist” and “Genre” views in the Music library now show the thumbnails for up to three unique albums per artist or genre instead of typically just one in Beta. The Videos library now features a Length view that lets customers split out the shorter clips from longer movies in their video collection. Finally, we’ve made it so that changing the grouping of the Folder view in a library is now remembered just like other arrangement view customization. People who prefer to see their files grouped a particular way no longer have to reset the grouping each time.
36. Improving performance through data
Feedback comes to us in many different forms. Typically it consists of comments customers share. However, some of the most valuable information actually comes to us automatically when people just use Windows. PerfTrack, for example, is a telemetry system that provides us with invaluable real-world performance data on over 500 different Windows scenarios. The exciting aspect of PerfTrack is that it represents what people are really experiencing “out in the wild”. Performance is a very important to both the engineering team as well as to our customers and we strive to continuously improve this area. The topic has been discussed in several posts on this blog.
Let’s look at just one example of a Windows scenario that was improved with the help of PerfTrack. The two graphs below show the performance of opening the Start Menu for both Beta and for a more recent version of Windows 7. Some caveats first—the sample sizes are different (after all Beta did go to a far wider audience) and these numbers shouldn’t be taken too literally since they really do just represent a snapshot. The different colors denote performance against the “interaction class”—the acceptable experience range defined by each feature team. In this case we want the Start Menu to appear within 50ms to 100ms. A trace capturing tool running on each machine lets us investigate and fix what may be impacting performance. The charts shows in Beta 85% of interactions were within the acceptable range (i.e. green or yellow, but not red). After examining the traces and making some optimizations, we find 92% of interactions are this range for a more recent build.
Start Menu Open Times for Windows 7 Build 7000 (Beta)
Start Menu Open Times for Windows 7 Build 7033
As is evident from this sample of changes, we’ve been very busy improving Windows 7 based upon what our customers are telling us in many forums.
- Chaitanya Sareen
Over the past week we have seen a little bit of blogosphere activity regarding Windows 7 and batteries, specifically the new Windows 7 message “Considering replacing your battery”. Since this is related to the engineering of Windows 7 we’re going to use this blog to provide an update to people. As we have talked about many times, we have a relentless focus on the quality of Windows 7 and we take seriously any reports we receive that indicate a potential problem that could result in a significant failure of the OS. In a previous post we talked about the steps we take when we receive a bug report, in particular when we start to see several reports that appear to be the same. For the past week or so we have been diligently working through these steps and more to see if there is anything in Windows 7 we need to address regarding this issue. At this time we have no reason to believe there is any issue related to Windows 7 in this context.
Several press articles this past week have drawn attention to blog and forum postings by users claiming Windows 7 is warning them to “consider replacing your battery” in systems which appeared to be operating satisfactorily before upgrading to Windows 7. These articles described posts in the support forums indicating that Windows 7 is not just warning users of failing batteries – as we designed Windows 7 to do this – but also implying Windows 7 is falsely reporting this situation or even worse, causing these batteries to fail. To the very best of the collective ecosystem knowledge, Windows 7 is correctly warning batteries that are in fact failing and Windows 7 is neither incorrectly reporting on battery status nor in any way whatsoever causing batteries to reach this state. In every case we have been able to identify the battery being reported on was in fact in need of recommended replacement.
Using all the tools at our disposal including contacting customers reporting this issue on forums, customer service communications, partnerships with our PC makers, and of course the telemetry in Windows 7, we have been monitoring reports and discussions regarding this new feature, trying to separate reports of the designed behavior from those that might indicate an issue with Windows 7. In the latter cases we are trying to understand the scope of applicability and obtain hardware on which to reproduce a faulty behavior. To date all such steps indicate that we do have customers seeing reports of battery health issues and in all cases we have investigated Windows 7 has simply accurately detected a failing battery. Before I go into our status on this particular issue, we should review the details behind this new feature.
One of the most obvious components of PC battery life (the runtime you get on battery power) is the battery itself. PC batteries inherently degrade in their ability to hold a charge and provide power (as is the case for all rechargeable batteries). The cause of this is complex and includes irreversible changes in battery chemistry, and increased internal resistance among other things and those in turn are dependent on the design and manufacturing of the battery. This degradation translates into less battery life for the user over the life of the battery in the PC. Ultimately, batteries must be replaced to restore an acceptable battery life. A quick check of mainstream laptops will show that batteries usually have a warranty of 12 months, which is about the length of time when statistically we expect to see noticeable degradation (meaning that you start to notice the need to charge more frequently). Those of us that have owned the same laptop (or mobile phone, or music player, or anything else with rechargeable batteries) for a couple of years and taken it through regular charge cycles have no doubt “felt” the decline in battery life though we might have attributed to any number of factors since we did not have any information available to us otherwise.
Windows 7 makes use of a feature of modern laptop batteries which have circuitry and firmware that can report to Windows the overall health of the battery. This is reported in absolute terms as Watt-hours (W-hr) power capacity. Windows 7 then does a simple calculation to determine a percentage of degradation from the original design capacity. In Windows 7 we set a threshold of 60% degradation (that is the battery is performing at 40% of its designed capacity) and in reading this Windows 7 reports the status to you. At this point, for example, a battery that originally delivered 5 hours of charge now delivers, on average, approximately 2 hours of charge. The Windows 7 the notification is a battery meter icon and notification with a message “Consider replacing your battery”. This notification is new to Windows 7 and not available in Windows Vista or Windows XP.
PC batteries expose information about battery capacity and health through the system firmware (or BIOS). There is a detailed specification for the firmware interface (ACPI), but at the most basic level, the hardware platform and firmware provide a number of read-only fields that describe the battery and its status. The firmware provides information on the battery including manufacturer, serial number, design capacity and last full charge capacity. The last two pieces of information—design capacity and last full charge capacity—are the information Windows 7 uses to determine how much the battery has naturally degraded. This information is read-only and there is no way for Windows 7 or any other OS to write, set or configure battery status information. In fact all of the battery actions of charging and discharging are completely controlled by the battery hardware. Windows only reports the battery information it reads from the system firmware. Some reports erroneously claimed Windows was modifying this information, which is definitely not possible.
As mentioned, every single indication we have regarding the reports we’ve seen are simply Windows 7 reporting the state of the battery using this new feature and we’re simply seeing batteries that are not performing above the designated threshold. Below we’ll talk about the data we have to support this point of view. It should stand to reason that some customers would be surprised to see this warning after upgrading a PC that was previously operating fine. Essentially the battery was degrading but it was not evident to the customer until Windows 7 made this information available. We recognize that this has the appearance of Windows 7 “causing” the change in performance, but in reality all Windows 7 did was report what was already the case.
This data would confirm our point of view that we are seeing nothing more than the normal course of battery degradation over time. The transparency provided in this new Windows 7 feature produced a notice that previously was not available to customers and did so shortly after upgrade. This is the root cause of the urgency with which we’ve seen postings, but does not change the reality of the condition of the battery. We have no confirmed cases of new machines with the as-purchased batteries.
As we always say with regards to any reports on the quality of Windows 7, we are going to continue to be diligent and use all the tools at our disposal to get to the bottom of a report that has the potential to require a code change we would distribute to customers. We are as certain as we can be that we have addressed the root cause and concerns of this report, but we will continue to monitor the situation. In particular, we will continue to have focused communication with our OEM partners as they monitor their customers and PCs over time.
Finally, if you believe you are receiving this error and your battery is new or believed to be in great shape we would encourage you to report this to us or your original PC maker. You are welcome to send me mail through the contact form on this page, use the TechNet forum, the Microsoft Answers forum, or visit support.microsoft.com where you can get additional information about how to contact Microsoft assisted support in your region.
This is a little bit of a tricky post to write because we’re going to be asking everyone using our Windows 7 Beta to help us out, but doing so is going to take a little time and require a bit of a commitment to helping test the next milestone. This has been a remarkably valuable and beneficial testing cycle for Windows as we have had a tremendous amount of very rigorous testing and usage. We’ve had millions of people install and use the Beta since January and as we’ve talked about, the feedback and telemetry have been of tremendous value as we finalize the product. The effort of Beta testers has contributed immensely to our ability to deliver a high-quality product to hundreds of millions of customers. We continue to follow the plan we have previously outlined and this post is no announcement of any news or change in plans. Since we know many people are running the Beta we want to provide a heads up regarding the behavior of the Release Candidate (RC) as it pertains to upgrades. Of course we are working hard on the RC and following the schedule we have set out for ourselves.
A big part of the beta process is making sure we get as much “real world” coverage of scenarios and experiences as possible and monitor the telemetry of those experience overall. One of the most challenging areas to engineer is the process of upgrading one release of Windows to another. When you think about it, it is the one place where at one time we need to run a ton of code to basically “know” everything about a system before performing the upgrade. During the development of Windows 7 we routinely test hundreds of original OEM images from Windows Vista and upgrade them and then run automated tests validating the upgrade’s success. We also test thousands of applications and many thousands of devices as they too move through the upgrade process.
Many of you installed the Windows 7 beta on a PC running Vista. We received that telemetry and acted on it accordingly. We believe we’ve continued to improve the upgrade experience throughout the release. Similarly, based on our telemetry most of you did clean installations onto new drive partitions. Through this telemetry we learned about the device ecosystem and what drivers were available or missing. We also learned about PC-specific functions that required installing a driver / application (from XP or Vista) to enable support for buttons, connectors, or other hardware components. Together we get great coverage of the setup experience.
We’ve also learned that many of you (millions) are running Windows 7 Beta full time. You’re anxious for a refresh. You’ve installed all your applications. You’ve configured and customized the system. You would love to get the RC and quickly upgrade to it from Beta. The RC, however, is about getting breadth coverage to validate the product in real-world scenarios. As a result, we want to encourage you to revert to a Vista image and upgrade or to do a clean install, rather than upgrade the existing Beta. We know that means reinstalling, recustomizing, reconfiguring, and so on. That is a real pain. The reality is that upgrading from one pre-release build to another is not a scenario we want to focus on because it is not something real-world customers will experience. During development we introduce changes in the product (under the hood) that aren’t always compatible with what we call “build-to-build” upgrade. The supported upgrade scenario is from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Before you go jump to the comment section, we want to say we are going to provide a mechanism for you to use if you absolutely require this upgrade. As an extended member of the development team and a participant in the Beta program that has helped us so much, we want to ask that you experience real-world setup and provide us real-world telemetry.
If you do follow the steps below, you might run across some oddities after upgrade. We experience these internally at Microsoft occasionally but we don’t always track them down and fix them because they take time away from bugs that would not only manifest themselves during this one-time pre-release operation. From time to time we’ve noticed on a few blogs that people are using builds that we have not officially released and complained of “instabilities” after upgrade. Nearly all of these have been these build-to-build issues. We’ve seen people talk about how a messenger client stopped working, a printer or device “disappears”, or start menu shortcuts are duplicated. These are often harmless and worst case often involves reinstalling the software or device.
We’re just trying to be deterministic and engineer the product for the real world. Speaking of the real world, many have asked about upgrading from Windows XP. There's no change here to the plan as has been discussed on many forums. We realized at the start of this project that the “upgrade” from XP would not be an experience we think would yield the best results. There are simply too many changes in how PCs have been configured (applets, hardware support, driver model, etc.) that having all of that support carry forth to Windows 7 would not be nearly as high quality as a clean install. This is something many of you know and already practice. We do provide support for moving files and settings and will prompt at setup time, but applications will need to be reinstalled. We know that for a set of customers this tradeoff seems less than perfect, but we think the upfront time is well worth it.
So when you try to upgrade a pre-RC build you will find that you’re not able to and setup will tell you and you can then exit gracefully. You can install as a clean installation and use the Windows Easy Transfer feature as well (run this from your current installation of course) if you wish to move your accounts, settings, files, and more. To bypass the version check, the instructions below will use a mechanism that is available for enterprise customers (so we are also testing this as well). It is not a simple command line switch. We didn’t make it multi-step on purpose but wanted to stick to using proven, documented and tested mechanisms.
These instructions will be brief. Since everyone reading is a well-versed and experienced beta tester you know ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR MACHINE before running any OS installation and NEVER TEST AN OS ON YOUR ONLY COPY OF ANY DATA. Testing a pre-release product means just that—it is testing and it is pre-release. Even though this is a Release Candidate, we are still testing the product. We have very high confidence but even if an error happens once in 1,000,000 we want to make sure everyone is taking the precautions normal for a pre-release product.
One other related caution is INSTALL ONLY OFFICIALLY RELEASED BUILDS FROM MICROSOFT. It will always be tempting to get the build with the “mod” already done but you really never know what else has been done to the build. There’s a thrill in getting the latest, we know, but that also comes with risks that can’t even be quantified. For the RC we will work to release a hash or some other way to validate the build, but the best way is to always download directly from Microsoft.
Here’s what you can do to bypass the check for pre-release upgrade IF YOU REALLY REALLY NEED TO:
These same steps will be required as we transition from the RC milestone to the RTM milestone.
Again, we know many people (including tens of thousands at Microsoft) are relying on the pre-release builds of Windows 7 for mission critical and daily work, making this step less than convenient. We’re working hard to provide the highest quality release we can and so we’d like to make sure for this final phase of testing we’re supporting the most real world scenarios possible, which incremental build to build upgrades are not. At the same time everyone on the beta has been so great we wanted to make sure we at least offered an opportunity to make your own expert and informed choice about how to handle the upgrade.
We’re always humbled by the excitement around the releases and by the support and enthusiasm from those that choose to run our pre-releases. We’re incredibly appreciative of the time and effort you put into doing so. In return we hope we are providing you with a great release to work with at each stage of the evolution of the product. Our next stop is the RC…see you there!
--Windows 7 Team
PS: At Step 1 above many of you are probably thinking, “hey why don’t you just let me mount the ISO and skip the plastic disc”. We’ve heard this feedback and we deserve the feedback. We don’t have this feature in Windows 7 and we should have. So please don’t fill the comments with this request. There are several third party tools for mounting and if you’ve got a Vista image there’s a good chance your PC came with those tools on it.
This post is about disk space and the disk space “consumed” by Windows 7. Disk space is the sort of thing where everyone wants to use less, but the cost of using a bit more relative to the benefits has generally been a positive tradeoff. Things have changed recently with the availability of solid-state drives in capacities significantly smaller than the trend in spinning drives. Traditionally most all software, including Windows, would not hesitate to consume a 100MB on a specific (justified) need when looking at a 60GB (or 1,500GB) drive; with desirable machines shipping with 16GB of solid-state storage, we are looking carefully at the disk space used by Windows—both at setup time and also as a PC “ages”. We also had a specific session at WinHEC on solid-state drives that might be interesting to folks. This post is authored by Michael Beck, a program manager in the core OS deployment feature team. --Steven
Let’s talk about “footprint”. For the purposes of this post, when I say “footprint” I’m talking about the total amount of physical disk space used by Windows. This includes not only the Windows binaries, but all disk space consumed or reserved for system operations. Later in this entry, I’ll discuss in detail how the disk footprint is consumed by various Windows technologies.
A number of comments have asked about disk footprint and what to expect in terms of Windows 7’s usage of disk space. Like many of the design issues we have talked about, disk space is also one where there are tradeoffs involved so this post goes into the details of some of those tradeoffs and also discusses some of the feedback we have received. It should be noted, that we are not at the point where we are committing to system requirements for Windows 7, so consider this background and engineering focus.
To structure this post we’ll take two important points of feedback or questions we have received:
We’ll then talk about the focus and engineering of Windows 7.
We definitely get a lot of questions about the new (to Vista) Windows SxS directory (%System Root%\winsxs) and many folks believe this is a big consumer of disk space as just bringing up the properties on a newly installed system shows over 3000 files and over 3.5 GB of disk consumed. Over time this directory grows to even higher numbers. Yikes--below is an example from a Steven's home PC.
“Modularizing” the operating system was an engineering goal in Windows Vista. This was to solve a number of issues in legacy Windows related to installation, servicing and reliability. The Windows SxS directory represents the “installation and servicing state” of all system components. But in reality it doesn’t actually consume as much disk space as it appears when using the built-in tools (DIR and Explorer) to measure disk space used. The fact that we make it tricky for you to know how much space is actually consumed in a directory is definitely a fair point!
In practice, nearly every file in the WinSxS directory is a “hard link” to the physical files elsewhere on the system—meaning that the files are not actually in this directory. For instance in the WinSxS there might be a file called advapi32.dll that takes up >700K however what’s being reported is a hard link to the actual file that lives in the Windows\System32, and it will be counted twice (or more) when simply looking at the individual directories from Windows Explorer.
The value of this is that the servicing platform (the tools that deliver patches and service packs) in Windows can query the WinSxS directory to determine a number of key details about the state of the system, like what’s installed, or available to be installed (optional components, more on those later), what versions, and what updates are on the system to help determine applicability of Windows patches to your specific system. This functionality gives us increased servicing reliability and performance, and supports future engineering efforts providing additional system layering and great configurability.
The WinSxS directory also enables offline servicing, and makes Windows Vista “safe for imaging”. Prior to Windows Vista, inbox deployment support was through “Setup” only. IT professionals would install a single system, and then leverage any number of 3rd party tools to capture the installed state as a general image they then deployed to multiple systems. Windows wasn’t built to be “image aware”. This meant that greater than 80% of systems were deployed and serviced using a technology that wasn’t supported natively, and required IT departments to create custom solutions to deploy and manage Windows effectively. In addition, state stored in the WinSxS directory can be queried “offline”, meaning the image doesn’t have to be booted or running, and patches can be applied to it. These two features of WinSxS give great flexibility and cost reductions to IT departments who deploy Windows Vista, making it easier to create and then service standard corporate images offline.
While it’s true that WinSxS does consume some disk space by simply existing, and there are a number of metadata files, folders, manifests, and catalogs in it, it’s significantly smaller than reported. The actual amount of storage consumed varies, but on a typical system it is about 400MB. While that is not small, we think the robustness provided for servicing is a reasonable tradeoff.
So why does the shell report hard links the way it does? Hard links work to optimize disk footprint for duplicate files all over the system. Application developers can use this functionality to optimize the disk consumption of their applications as well. It’s critical that any path expected by an application appear as a physical file in the file system to support the appropriate loading of the actual file. In this case, the shell is just another application reporting on the files it sees. As a result of this confusion and a desire to reduce disk footprint, many folks have endeavored to just delete this directory to save space.
There have been several blogs and even some “underground” tools that tell you it’s ok to delete the WinSxS directory, and it’s certainly true that after installation, you can remove it from the system and it will appear that the system boots and runs fine. But as described above, this is a very bad practice, as you’re removing the ability to reliably service, all operating system components and the ability to update or configure optional components on your system. Windows Vista only supports the WinSxS directory on the physical drive in its originally installed location. The risks far outweigh the gains removing it or relocating it from the system, given the data described above.
As we all know adding new functionality consumes additional disk space--in Windows or any software. In reality, “code” takes up a relatively small percentage of the overall Windows footprint. The actual code required for a Windows Vista Ultimate install is just over 2GB, with the rest of the footprint going to “data” broadly defined. Let’s dig deeper into the use of storage in a Windows Vista installation and what we mean by "data".
Reliability and security were core considerations during the engineering process that built Windows Vista. Much of the growth in footprint comes from a number of core reliability features that users depend on for system recovery, performance, data protection, and troubleshooting. Some of these include system restore, hibernation, page file, registry back up, and logging. Each of these represent “backup state” that is available to the system to recover from any number of situations, some planned and others not. Because we know that different customers will want to make different tradeoffs of disk space relative to recovery (especially on small footprint devices) with Windows 7 we want to make sure you have more control than you currently do to decide ahead of time how much disk space to use for these mechanisms, and we will also tune our defaults to be more sensitive to overall consumption due to the changing nature of storage.
System restore and hibernation are features that help users to confidently recover their system and prevent data loss, in a number of situations such as low battery (hibernation), bad application installation or other machine corruption (system restore). Combined, these features consume a large percentage of the footprint. Because of the amount of space these use, they are easy to identify and make decisions regarding.
System restore protects users by taking snapshots of the system prior to changes and on regular intervals. In Windows Vista, system restore, is configured to consume 300mb minimally, and up to 15% of the physical disk. As the amount of space fills up with restore points, System Restore will delete older restore points to make room for new ones. The more space you have, the greater the number of restore points you have available to “roll back” to. We have definitely heard the feedback from Windows Vista customers around system restore and recognize that the it takes significant space and is not easy to tune. Some have already seen the pre-beta for Windows 7 provides an interface to manage the space better.
Hibernate is primarily used on mobile PCs and saves your work to the hard disk and puts the computer in an extremely low power state. Hibernate is used on mobile PCs when the battery drains below a certain threshold or when turning the computer off without using Shut Down to extend battery life as much as possible. On Windows Vista, Hibernate is also automatically used with Sleep on desktop PCs to keep a backup copy of open programs and work. This feature is called Hybrid Sleep and is used to save state to the hard disk in case power fails while the computer is sleeping. Hibernate writes all of the content in memory (RAM) to a file on the hard drive named Hiberfil.sys. Therefore, the size of the reserved Hiberfil.sys is equal to the amount of RAM in the machine. In the Windows Vista timeframe, the amount of RAM being built into computers has increased significantly, thus the disk footprint of Hibernate is more noticeable than before. This space must be reserved up front to guarantee that in a critical low battery situation, the system can easily write memory contents to the disk. Any mobile PC user that has experienced their computer automatically entering Hibernate when the battery is critically low can appreciate the peace of mind this footprint growth provides. While we're talking about RAM and disk footprint in the same paragraph, Mark Russinovich has a post this week on virtual memory and how big the swapfile could/should/can be that you might find interesting.
Now it’s clear that in the description above, I don’t account for the entire footprint required by Windows Vista. For instance, we also include many sample files, videos, high resolution backgrounds that allow users to easily customize their experience, and try out new features, but we’ve covered a couple of the more common questions out there.
It’s important that we consider more than just the size of the system once deployed, but we must also look at how the system grows over time as services write logs, updates, and service packs are installed, system snapshots are taken etc. For many, the “growth” over time of the installation proves to be the most perplexing—and we hear that and need to do better to (a) make smarter choices and (b) make it clearer what space is being consumed and can be reclaimed.
The following table provides one view of the installation footprint of a Windows Vista Premium/Ultimate installation. This includes the full installation, but to make it digestible this has been broken down into some logical categories and also highlights some specific features. Part of the reason to highlight specific feature is to illustrate the “costs” for items that have been raised as questions (or questionable).
Here are some items worth calling out:
Windows disk space consumption has trended larger over time. While not desirable, the degree to which it’s been allowed is due in large part to ever-increasing hard drive capacity, combined with a customer need and engineering focus that focused heavily on recoverability, data protection, increasing breadth of device support, and demand for innovative new features. However, the proliferation of Solid State Drives (SSDs) has challenged this trend, and is pushing us to consider disk footprint in a much more thoughtful way and take that into account for Windows 7.
This doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop adding great features or make Windows less reliable or recoverable. As we look to the future, it’s critical that as we innovate, we do so treating the disk space consumed by our work as a valuable resource, and have a clearer design for how Windows uses it. We want to make sure that we are making smart choices for the vast majority of customers and for those desiring more control providing places to fine tune these choices as appropriate. This design goal isn’t about a type of machine, or specific design, all Windows editions benefit from efforts that focus on a reduction of the overall footprint.
For example, as we consider the driver support discussed above, Windows Vista with SP1 installs almost 1GB of drivers on the system to support plug and play of devices. This local cache can get out of date as IHVs release updates to their drivers, and as a result, users are pushed to Windows update to get the latest version once the device is installed.
Why not extend the PnP user experience to include (or only use) the Windows Update cache of drivers and save some disk space? This has several benefits:
With this example it’s easy to see how engineering for a minimal footprint might actually deliver a better experience for people when attaching new devices to their systems. At the same time, we want to be careful about going too far too soon. We get a tremendous amount of feedback regarding the “plug and play” experience or feedback about costly download times (if download is at all possible). For Windows 7 we are going to continue to be deliberate in what we include based on the telemetry of real world devices and reducing the inbox set to cover the most popular devices around the world. At the same time we will continue a very significant effort around having the best available Windows Update site for all devices we can possibly support.
Windows features installed by default make sense in most cases to support many scenarios. We should consider how we make some features/components (such as Media Center) optional when they are not required rather than installing them by default on every system. We’re committed to make more features of Windows optionally installed. As you might notice today in Windows, when you choose to add a feature that was not installed Windows does not require a source (a DVD or network location). This is because the feature is stashed away as part of a complete Windows install—this is itself a feature. We will always keep features available and will always service them even when components are not installed—that way if you add a component later you do not risk adding a piece of code that might have been exploited earlier. This is another important way we keep Windows up to date and secure, even for optional features.
System growth over time is an area where we need to provide more “transparency”. For instance, Windows will archive previous versions of updated system components to allow robust rollback. A new system will install patches as Windows Update makes them available, just as expected by design. As a Service Pack or other large update is installed that contains or supersedes any of the previous patches; we can simply recover the space used by the old updates sometime after the update is successfully installed.
Windows writes logs in many places to aid in troubleshooting and these logs can grow very large. For instance, when an application crashes, Windows will archive a very large dump file to support analysis of the failure. There are many good reasons for this behavior, but as we change our mindset towards footprint, we need to extend our scenarios to include discussions of how to manage the growth, and recover the disk space consumed whenever possible. Other areas where we are considering the default disk space reserved include System restore and hibernation. On a disk constrained system, the 1GB or more reserved to support hibernation is costly and there may be ways to shrink the size of hiberfil.sys. System restore should be configurable, and default in all cases to the minimally useful number of snapshots vs. a blanket 15% of the system disk.
At WinHEC we had several machines on display with 16GB drives/partitions and on those you could see there was plenty of free disk space. Like all the benchmarks, measuring disk space on the pre-beta is not something we’re encouraging at this time.
In conclusion, as we develop Windows 7 it’s likely that the system footprint will be smaller than Windows Vista with the engineering efforts across the team which should allow for greater flexibility in system designs by PC manufacturers. We will do so with more attention to defaults, more control available to OEMs, end-users and IT pros, and will do so without compromising the reliability and robustness of Windows overall.
Happy Birthday Windows! Given all the interest in the most used user-interface of Windows we thought it would be good to take a look back and see how we got to Windows 7. --Steven
We were very excited to unveil elements of the Windows 7 desktop at this year’s Professional Developers Conference (as seen in the Welcome to the Windows 7 Desktop session, among others). In previous posts (User Interface: Starting, Launching, and Switching and Follow-up: Starting, Launching, and Switching) we looked at the history, anatomy and areas for improvement of the taskbar. In this post, we will continue the conversation. Don’t let looks fool you though—the UI may feel new to Windows for some of you or old hat for some of you, but rest assured it represents a careful evolution that strives to address customer feedback while retaining its familiar Windows DNA.
It was 23 years ago on November 20, 1985 when Windows first shipped. As it just so happens, this first Microsoft graphical shell actually holds relevance to this post as it surfaced one of the industry’s first taskbar-like concepts.
Fig 1 Windows 1.01: Icons at the bottom of the screen represent running windows
Windows 1.0 supported zoomed (full-screen), tiled and icon (minimized) windows. Since there was no support for overlapping [that big debate between charless and billg, Steven], a dedicated portion of the desktop was kept visible at the bottom of the screen to surface non-tiled and non-zoomed windows. By minimizing a window or dragging it to the bottom of the screen, the person was able to populate this rudimentary taskbar with a large icon corresponding to the running window. She could then get back to this window by clicking or dragging this icon to the desktop. As simple as this mechanism seems today, it cemented an important concept that is with us even in Windows 7—when people switch between tasks, they are really switching between windows. Although it took Windows 95 to introduce a mature taskbar with launching, switching and notification functionality, the experience of surfacing and switching between windows via a dedicated region at the bottom of the screen is as ancient as Windows 1.0.
In the previous taskbar posts, we discussed some high-level principles we defined after digesting the mountain of data and feedback on the taskbar. Here’s a more detailed look at the goals we identified and how we began to frame feature concepts.
It is easy to get to the programs and destinations you use all the time, with less mouse movement and fewer clicks.
Accessing commonly used programs within a single click required us to enrich Quick Launch by increasing its presence on the taskbar and making more top-level room for pinned items. We began looking into how Quick Launch interacted with the taskband and how launching and switching were sometimes separate and other times duplicative. For example, almost all single-instance programs in Windows interpret an attempt to re-launch them as a switch if they are already running. So, clicking Outlook’s icon in Quick Launch would merely switch to the program if it was already running and present in the taskband. To make room for more items on the taskbar, we knew we had to remove some of the redundancy and free up valuable real-estate.
When researching and modeling a person’s workflow, we came to realize that there were three basic steps that a person frequently seems repeats. First, she finds the program and launches it. Then, she uses the program’s UI to open a file she wants to work on. Then finally, she gets to work. We asked ourselves whether we could help people jump directly to these items by skipping the first two steps. We called these files, folders, links, websites and other items that programs create or consume “destinations” as they represent where the person is ultimately is navigating to. We decided that these destinations should also be easily accessible from the taskbar. However, for real success and adoption, we needed to think through how destinations could be effectively surfaced to the person without the need for manual customization or by requiring developers to do lots of work.
You can switch to the right window quickly without mistakes and effortlessly position windows the way you want them.
This goal spoke to the very heart of the taskbar—the ability to switch between windows. This challenged us with seeking a more predictable method of surfacing windows on the taskbar, meaningful use of text and a reliable method of helping people consistently switch with confidence. We’ve had text on the taskbar for years and Vista introduced thumbnails, but customer feedback informed us that there was room for improvement. Interestingly, we found inspiration in old features such as Windows XP’s window grouping and Alt-Tab’s visual layout of individual windows.
During our investigation, we also spent time looking into why a person would switch windows in the first place. Two interesting scenarios emerged—one in which she needs to get some information from a window (e.g. getting a phone number) and to interact with a window’s options (e.g. controlling background music). We wondered whether we could address these task switching cases in a novel way—by actually removing the need to switch completely.
The desktop reflects your style. You get to personalize the experience, choosing what is important to you, including how and when you receive notifications.
By far the biggest target of feedback, the Notification Area had to put control back in the hands of people. It was decided that instead of the opt-out model that required the person to clean up this area, we would start with a clean experience. Only system icons would appear by default and then people can to customize this area to their liking.
The desktop experience feels organized, lightweight, open and is a pleasure to use. Visuals and animations are delighters the first time and every time.
A successful product is more than the utility it serves—it is also an experience. From the very start we wanted the taskbar, and the desktop as a whole, to draw an emotional response from the person. This required a set of scoped delighters that demoed well and retained their appeal over time. We began to define a personality for the UI using terms such as “glass and energy,” Chi, authenticity and many others. These investigations helped define a visual and animation language that we could then apply to several aspects of Windows 7. Expect a future blog post that delves much deeper into this important design process—much of which Sam discussed in his PDC session.
The Windows 7 taskbar is about launching with ease, switching with confidence and all the while remaining in control. The UI is made up of several key features that complete common end-to-end scenarios. Let’s dive into each of these elements and how they work.
The taskbar has undergone a facelift. We’ve enabled large icons by default (as seen in Windows 1.0 and also an option of Quick Launch since Windows 95 with IE 4). This affords a richer icon language, improves identification of programs and improves targeting for both the mouse and touch. Yet, one of the most important advantages large icons provide is a means to promote the taskbar as the central place to launch everyday tasks. We joke that the new taskbar is the “beachfront property of the Windows OS” and in turn, we are already seeing many people populating the UI with their commonly used programs. Somewhat if a visual trick, the taskbar is only 10 pixels (at 96 DPI) higher than its Vista counterpart (when used as a single row, since multiple rows are still supported, along with positioning around the screen edges).
Fig 2. The Windows 7 taskbar: Default settings include large icons, no text and glass surface
To mitigate its slightly increased height and the larger icons, we decided to impart the UI with a more prominent glass treatment. This also allows us to better showcase the person’s color preference (you’ll recall that in a previous post we revealed that almost 30% of sessions have personalized glass). We also changed the Vista behavior so that when a window is maximized, both the taskbar and the window’s title bar continue to remain open and translucent. We received lots of feedback on Vista that many people didn’t like these UIs turning opaque and dark.
You can still pin programs to the taskbar by dragging them or via a context menu, just like you have always done with Quick Launch. Destinations can also be pinned via a drag/drop, but they are designed to be surfaced differently as we’ll see under the Jump List section.
If one increases the size of Quick Launch, one must then determine what to do with the taskband. As previously discussed, we observed that under many scenarios of single-instance programs, launching and switching were equivalent. Hence, we decided to standardize this behavior and have program launchers turn into window switchers when they are launched. Effectively, we unified Quick Launch and the taskband. While some other operating systems have similar concepts, one difference with our approach is that our default experience always optimizes for a single representation on the taskbar. This means that regardless of a window’s state (e.g. minimized, maximized or restored) there are no new or duplicate buttons created. Also, the default taskbar doesn’t allow destinations to be pinned to the top-level which prevents duplication of a pinned file and a running window with that same file open. When we say there is “one button to rule them all” we’re serious. This approach to a single, unified button keeps the taskbar uncluttered and gives the person a single place to find what she’s looking for.
Combining launching and switching also made it easier to provide the most requested feature—the ability to move taskbar buttons. Quick Launch as always allowed this, but combining this mechanism with the taskband naturally extended rearrange functionality to running windows.
Vista showed thumbnails when the user hovers on a taskbar button and Windows 7 improves upon this design. Unlike Vista, these thumbnails are now an extension of their corresponding button so the person can click on these visual aides to switch to a given window. The thumbnail is also is a more accurate representation of a window complete with an icon in the top left corner, window text and even the ubiquitous close button in the top right.
Fig 3. Thumbnails: Grouped, interactive thumbnails make it easier to manage windows
One of the most important functions of the taskbar is to surface individual windows so people can easily switch between them. Having unified a program launcher and a single window switcher, the next logical step was to determine how multiple windows of a program could be combined and presented. We looked no further than a feature introduced in Windows XP called window grouping. When the taskbar became full, windows of a program could collapse into a single menu. However, there were a few challenges with the design. First, the behavior isn’t predictable. People don’t really understand when this scaling mechanism is triggered. Second, a listview of windows isn’t always the best way to represent these items. Finally, opening the menu always required a click, which slowed some people down. Our solution was to combine buttons by default for a predictable experience, to use grouped thumbnails and to have these thumbnails appear on hover as well as on click. Think of this approach as a contextual Alt-tab surfaced directly off the taskbar. When the person brings her mouse to a taskbar button, all the thumbnails of a program appear simultaneously making for a organized, light-weight switching model. To polish off the experience, we show a visual cue of stacked tiles that provides feedback on whether there are multiple windows running for a program. We also recognized that a set of people may still wish to see an individual buttons for each window and an option permits this behavior.
With the Windows 7 taskbar, there is a single place to go regardless of whether the program is not running, running with one window or running with several windows. Rich thumbnails provide more intuitive ways of managing and switching between windows.
Here’s a riddle for you—what’s the best size for a window’s preview that will guarantee that the you can accurately identify it? Grouped thumbnails look and feel great, but we know these small previews don’t always provide enough information to identify a window. Sure they work great for pictures, but not so for emails or documents. The answer is simply to show the actual window—complete with its real content, real size and real location. That’s the concept behind Aero Peek.
When the taskbar doesn’t offer enough information via text or a thumbnail, the person simply moves the mouse over a taskbar thumbnail and voilà—the corresponding window appears on the desktop and all other windows fade away into glass sheets. Once you see the window you want, just click to restore it. Not only does this make finding a window a breeze, it may also remove the need to switch altogether for scenarios in which one just needs a quick glance to glean information. Peek also works on the desktop too. Show Desktop has been moved to the far right of the taskbar where one can still click on this button to switch to the desktop. The control enjoys a Fitts magic corner which makes it very easy to target. If you just move your mouse over the control, all windows on the desktop turn to glass allowing the desktop to be seen. It’s easy to now glance at a stock or the weather gadget or to check to see if a file is on the desktop.
Fig 4. Aero Peek: Hovering over a thumbnail peeks at its corresponding window on the desktop
We spent a lot of time analyzing different aspects of Peek. For example, we recognized that when people are using the feature, they won’t be necessary focused on the taskbar as they look at windows on the desktop. An early prototype triggered Peek directly off the top-level of the taskbar but this revealed issues. Moving the mouse across a small a region to trigger different previews exited Peek since the natural arc of hand motion resulted in the mouse falling off the taskbar. By only triggering Peek off the thumbnails, we gained much more room for the mouse to arc and we also reduced accidental triggers.
As far back as Windows 1.0, there has always been a system menu that shows contextual controls for running windows and their programs. This menu is accessible by right-clicking on a taskband button or in the top left corner of most windows. By default, the menu exposes windows controls such as close. (Random trivia—ever wonder why the system menu off a taskbar button always shows close in bold when close isn’t the double-click behavior? Well, the answer is that double-clicking the top left region of most windows will close it and the bolded option makes sense in this context. The same menu just happens to be hosted in both locations.) Over the years, some programs have extended the system menu to surface relevant tasks. For example, Command Prompt reveals tasks such as editing options, defaults and properties in its system menu. However, this is a bit of a free-for-all for programs to opt in or not, resulting in an inconsistent experience for people. Another blow to this scenario is that the system menu is only accessible when the program is running. This makes sense since the default commands are about window management, but what if you wanted to access a program’s tasks even it isn’t running?
As we discussed under the goals section, we thought about the various steps people have to take to accomplish tasks and whether we could reduce them. Be it getting to a destination or accessing the commands of a program, we wanted to make it easier for people to jump to the things they are trying to accomplish. Jump Lists are a new feature of the Windows 7 taskbar that accomplish just this. Think of this feature as a mini Start Menu for each program or an evolved version of the system menu. Jump Lists surface commonly used nouns (destinations) and verbs (tasks) of a program. There are several advantages this new approach provides. First, the you don’t need to even start the program to quickly launch a file or access a task. Second, destinations don’t take up valuable space on the taskbar; they are automatically organized by their respective program in a simple list. Should one have ten programs pinned or running on her taskbar, this means she could have quick access to over 150 destinations she uses all the time, without even the need to customize the UI! Since the Jump List shows lots of text for each of its items, gone are the days of having identical icons on your taskbar that are indistinguishable without a tooltip. Should you wish to keep a specific destination around, you can simply pin it to the list.
Fig 5. Jump List: Right-clicking on Word gives quick access to recently used documents
To make sure we provide a consistent and valuable experience out-of-the-box, we decided to pre-populate Jump Lists and also allow programs to customize the experience. By default, the menu contains the program’s shortcut, the ability to toggle pinning, the ability to close one or all windows and a program’s recent destinations (assuming they use the Common File Dialog, register their file type or use the Recent Items API). Programs are able to replace the default MRU (Most Recently Used) list with a system-maintained MFU (Most Frequently Used) list, should their destinations be very volatile. For example, while Word will benefit from a MRU just like the one in their File Menu, Windows Explorer has opted to enable the MFU because people tend to visit many paths throughout a session. Programs are also able to provide their own custom destination list when they have a greater expertise of the person’s behavior (e.g. IE exposes their own history). Still others like Windows Live Messenger and Media Player surface tasks or a mix of tasks and destinations.
In case we haven’t yet impressed it upon you, the taskbar is about a single place to launch and switch. Jump Lists offer another important piece of the puzzle as it surfaces valuable destinations and tasks off a program’s unified taskbar button.
All the major web browsers offer tabs and a method of managing these tabs. One could argue tab toolbars are really like taskbars since they facilitate switching. These TDI (Tabbed Document Interface) and MDI (Multiple Document Interface) programs have always resorted to creating their own internal window management systems as the Windows taskbar was not optimized to help their scenarios. Some programs like Excel did custom work to surface their child windows on the taskbar, but this approach was somewhat of a hack.
Since the new taskbar already groups individual windows of a program under a single button, we can now offer a standard way for programs that have child windows to expose them. Again, the taskbar offers a single, consistent place to access real windows as well as child windows. These custom window switchers also behave as regular windows on the taskbar with rich thumbnails and even Aero Peek.
In the earlier taskbar posts, we discussed how Windows Media Player’s deskband offers valuable background music controls, but only a mere 3% of sessions ever enjoy the functionality. The new taskbar exposes a feature called Thumbnail Toolbars that surface up to seven window controls right in context of taskbar buttons. Unlike a Jump List that applies globally to a program, this toolbar is contextual to just a specific window. By embracing this new feature, Media Player can now reach a majority of people.
Fig 6. Thumbnail Toolbar: Window controls easily accessible in context of a taskbar thumbnail
Thumbnail Toolbars leave the taskbar uncluttered and allow relevant tasks to be conveniently accessible directly from a taskbar thumbnail. Surfacing tasks reduces the need to switch to a window.
We’re happy to announce that the Notification Area is back under your control. By default, only a select few system icons are shown while all others appear in a menu. Simply drag icons on or off the taskbar to control the experience. Better yet, every balloon tip that appears in the system has a little wrench icon that allows one to quickly “swat” an annoying alert by immediately seeing what is causing the notification and a direct way to disable it.
Fig 7. Notification Overflow: By default icons appear in an overflow area that you can then promote
Interestingly a very popular change to Notification Area isn’t about reducing noise, but rather showing more information. The default taskbar now reveals both the time and the date. Finally!
Cleaning the Notification Area warrants us to consider other ways that programs can surface important information. We’ll always had overlay icons throughout Windows (e.g. to show shortcuts in Explorer) so we decided to bring this functionality to the taskbar. An icon can now be shown over a program’s taskbar button. Furthermore, programs can also give feedback about progress by having their taskbar button turn into a progress bar.
Fig 8. Progress Bars: Explorer utilizes taskbar progress to show a copy operation in process
A program can now easily show an icon or progress in context of its taskbar button which furthers the one place, one button philosophy of the taskbar.
Color hot-track is a small touch that typifies the new taskbar’s personality. When a person moves her mouse over a running program on the taskbar, she will be pleasantly surprised to find that a light source tracks her mouse and the color of the light is actually based on the icon itself. We calculate the most dominant RGB of the icon and dynamically paint the button with this color. Color hot-track provides a delight factor, it offers feedback that a program is running and it showcases a program’s icon. We’ve always believed that programs light up the Windows platform and now, we’re returning the favor.
Fig 9. Color Hot-track: moving the mouse across a running window reveals a dynamically colored light effect
Vista introduced several changes to the Start Menu so we decided to minimize churn to this UI in Windows 7. Notable improvements include the availability of Jump Lists and a better power button that defaults to Shutdown, but makes it easy to customize.
Despite all the features of the new taskbar, it is worthwhile noting the UI retains its familiarity. We like to describe our work as evolutionary, not revolutionary. The taskbar continues to be a launch surface, a window switcher and a whisperer of notifications. Whether one is relatively new to Windows or a seasoned pro, we realize change comes at a cost. It is for this reason that we took the time to carefully evaluate feedback, we performed numerous studies to validate our designs and finally, we will continue to provide scoped settings that keep the UI flexible.
We hope this post provided more insight into the new Windows 7 taskbar. Expect future discussions on our design process, how we tested our features and advanced functionality for all you enthusiasts.
One of the features that you’ve been pretty clear about (I’ve received over 100 emails on this topic!) is the desire to improve the disk defrag utility in Windows 7. We did. And from blogs we saw a few of you noticed, which is great. This is not as straight forward as it may appear. We know there’s a lot of history in defrag and how “back in the day” it was a very significant performance issue and also a big mystery to most people. So many folks came to know that if your machine is slow you had to go through the top-secret defrag process. In Windows Vista we decided to just put the process on autopilot with the intent that you’d never have to worry about it. In practice this turns out to be true, at least to the limits of automatically running a process (that is if you turn your machine off every night then it will never run). We received a lot of feedback from knowledgeable folks wanting more information on defrag status, especially during execution, as well as more flexibility in terms of the overall management of the process. This post will detail the changes we made based on that feedback. In reading the mail and comments we received, we also thought it would be valuable to go into a little bit more detail about the process, the perceptions and reality of performance gains, as well as the specific improvements. This post is by Rajeev Nagar and Matt Garson, both are Program Managers on our File System feature team. --Steven
In this blog, we focus on disk defragmentation in Windows 7. Before we discuss the changes introduced in Windows 7, let’s chat a bit about what fragmentation is, and its applicability.
Within the storage and memory hierarchy comprising the hardware pipeline between the hard disk and CPU, hard disks are relatively slower and have relatively higher latency. Read/write times from and to a hard disk are measured in milliseconds (typically, 2-5 ms) – which sounds quite fast until compared to a 2GHz CPU that can compute data in less than 10 nanoseconds (on average), once the data is in the L1 memory cache of the processor.
This performance gap has only been increasing over the past 2 decades – the figures below are noteworthy.
In short, the figures illustrate that while disk capacities are increasing, their ability to transfer data or write new data is not increasing at an equivalent rate – so disks contain more data that takes longer to read or write. Consequently, fast CPUs are relatively idle, waiting for data to do work on.
Significant research in Computer Science has focused on improving overall system I/O performance, which has lead to two principles that the operating system tries to follow:
Both rules have reasonably simply understood rationale:
File systems such as NTFS work quite hard to try and satisfy the above rules. As an example, consider the case when I listen to the song “Hotel California” by the Eagles (one of my all time favorite bands). When I first save the 5MB file to my NTFS volume, the file system will try and find enough contiguous free space to be able to place the 5MB of data “together” on the disk. Since logically related data (e.g. contents of the same file or directory) is more likely to be read or written around the same time. For example, I would typically play the entire song “Hotel California” and not just a portion of it. During the 3 minutes that the song is playing, the computer would be fetching portions of this “related content” (i.e. sub-portions of the file) from the disk until the entire file is consumed. By making sure the data is placed together, the system can issue read requests in larger chunks (often pre-reading data in anticipation that it will soon be used) which, in turn, will minimize mechanical movement of hard disk drive components and also ensure fewer issued I/Os.
Given that the file system tries to place data contiguously, when does fragmentation occur? Modifications to stored data (e.g. adding, changing, or deleting content) cause changes in the on-disk data layout and can result in fragmentation. For example, file deletion naturally causes space de-allocation and resultant “holes” in the allocated space map – a condition we will refer to as “fragmentation of available free space”. Over time, contiguous free space becomes harder to find leading to fragmentation of newly stored content. Obviously, deletion is not the only cause of fragmentation – as mentioned above, other file operations such as modifying content in place or appending data to an existing file can eventually lead to the same condition.
So how does defragmentation help? In essence, defragmentation helps by moving data around so that it is once again placed more optimally on the hard disk, providing the following benefits:
The following diagram will help illustrate what we’re discussing. The first illustration represents an ideal state of a disk – there are 3 files, A, B, and C, and all are stored in contiguous locations; there is no fragmentation. The second illustration represents a fragmented disk – a portion of data associated with File A is now located in a non-contiguous location (due to growth of the file). The third illustration shows how data on the disk would look like once the disk was defragmented.
Nearly all modern file systems support defragmentation – the differences generally are in the defragmentation mechanism, whether, as in Windows, it’s a separate, schedulable task or, whether the mechanism is more implicitly managed and internal to the file system. The design decisions simply reflect the particular design goals of the system and the necessary tradeoffs. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that a general-purpose file system could be designed such that fragmentation never occurred.
Over the years, defragmentation has been given a lot of emphasis because, historically, fragmentation was a problem that could have more significant impact. In the early days of personal computing, when disk capacities were measured in megabytes, disks got full faster and fragmentation occurred more often. Further, memory caches were significantly limited and system responsiveness was increasingly predicated on disk I/O performance. This got to a point that some users ran their defrag tool weekly or even more often! Today, very large disk drives are available cheaply and % disk utilization for the average consumer is likely to be lower causing relatively less fragmentation. Further, computers can utilize more RAM cheaply (often, enough to be able to cache the data set actively in use). That together, with improvements in file system allocation strategies as well as caching and pre-fetching algorithms, further helps improve overall responsiveness. Therefore, while the performance gap between the CPU and disks continues to grow and fragmentation does occur, combined hardware and software advances in other areas allow Windows to mitigate fragmentation impact and deliver better responsiveness.
So, how would we evaluate fragmentation given today’s software and hardware? A first question might be: how often does fragmentation actually occur and to what extent? After all, 500GB of data with 1% fragmentation is significantly different than 500GB with 50% fragmentation. Secondly, what is the actual performance penalty of fragmentation, given today’s hardware and software? Quite a few of you likely remember various products introduced over the past two decades offering various performance enhancements (e.g. RAM defragmentation, disk compression, etc.), many of which have since become obsolete due to hardware and software advances.
The incidence and extent of fragmentation in average home computers varies quite a bit depending on available disk capacity, disk consumption, and usage patterns. In other words, there is no general answer. The actual performance impact of fragmentation is the more interesting question but even more complex to accurately quantify. A meaningful evaluation of the performance penalty of fragmentation would require the following:
Let’s walk through an example that helps illustrate the complexity in directly correlating extent of fragmentation with user-visible performance.
In Windows XP, any file that is split into more than one piece is considered fragmented. Not so in Windows Vista if the fragments are large enough – the defragmentation algorithm was changed (from Windows XP) to ignore pieces of a file that are larger than 64MB. As a result, defrag in XP and defrag in Vista will report different amounts of fragmentation on a volume. So, which one is correct? Well, before the question can be answered we must understand why defrag in Vista was changed. In Vista, we analyzed the impact of defragmentation and determined that the most significant performance gains from defrag are when pieces of files are combined into sufficiently large chunks such that the impact of disk-seek latency is not significant relative to the latency associated with sequentially reading the file. This means that there is a point after which combining fragmented pieces of files has no discernible benefit. In fact, there are actually negative consequences of doing so. For example, for defrag to combine fragments that are 64MB or larger requires significant amounts of disk I/O, which is against the principle of minimizing I/O that we discussed earlier (since it decreases total available disk bandwidth for user initiated I/O), and puts more pressure on the system to find large, contiguous blocks of free space. Here is a scenario where a certainly amount of fragmentation of data is just fine – doing nothing to decrease this fragmentation turns out to be the right answer!
Note that a concept that is relatively simple to understand, such as the amount of fragmentation and its impact, is in reality much more complex, and its real impact requires comprehensive evaluation of the entire system to accurately address. The different design decisions across Windows XP and Vista reflect this evaluation of the typical hardware & software environment used by customers. Ultimately, when thinking about defragmentation, it is important to realize that there are many additional factors contributing towards system responsiveness that must be considered beyond a simple count of existing fragments.
The defragmentation engine and experience in Windows 7 has been revamped based on continuous and holistic analysis of impact on system responsiveness:
In Windows Vista, we had removed all of the UI that would provide detailed defragmentation status. We received feedback that you didn’t like this decision, so we listened, evaluated the various tradeoffs, and have built a new GUI for defrag! As a result, in Windows 7, you can monitor status more easily and intuitively. Further, defragmentation can be safely terminated any time during the process and on all volumes very simply (if required). The two screenshots below illustrate the ease-of-monitoring:
In Windows XP, defragmentation had to be a user-initiated (manual) activity i.e. it could not be scheduled. Windows Vista added the capability to schedule defragmentation – however, only one volume could be defragmented at any given time. Windows 7 removes this restriction – multiple volumes can now be defragmented in parallel with no more waiting for one volume to be defragmented before initiating the same operation on some other volume! The screen shot below shows how defragmentation can be concurrently scheduled on multiple volumes:
Among the other changes under the hood in Windows 7 are the following:
Best practices for using defragmentation in Windows 7 are simple – you do not need to do anything! Defragmentation is scheduled to automatically run periodically and in the background with minimal impact to foreground activity. This ensures that data on your hard disk drives is efficiently placed so the system can provide optimal responsiveness and I can continue to enjoy glitch free listening to the Eagles :-).
Rajeev and Matt
Hey folks, just wanted to provide another update (building on the recent post on some changes since Beta) on some of the changes you will see in the Release Candidate. Again, there are many and this is not an exhaustive list. Of course we continue to gather telemetry from the large number of people running the Beta full time. Just a reminder, the Beta is the only official build from Microsoft. Chaitanya compiled this list from a broad set of feature teams focused on visible changes based on feedback that go beyond “bug fixes”, though we included some of the more widely reported bugs on this list as well. –Steven
1. Improved taskbar thumbnail overflow
Our customers are enjoying how windows are grouped and revealed on the enhanced taskbar. Some enthusiasts who have a significant number of open windows for a program encounter our scaling mechanism; the thumbnail view turns into a list view. Although this UI is virtually identical to experience in XP and Vista, customers still want to enjoy new functionality of the thumbnail view. Bentronic wrote, “It's nice that there's a little close button on the thumbnail previews--why not have a similar button for when it's showing as a list? Being able to run down the list clicking the close button instead of right-clicking would be great.” For RC we’ve made the list view architecturally the same as the thumbnail view, just sans thumbnails. Customers will now enjoy close buttons and the menus open on hover (in Beta one had to click to open them).
List View of running windows appears on hover and supports close
2. Control Panel Jump List
Right-clicking on the Control Panel icon on the taskbar in Beta revealed a noticeably sparse Jump List. A few people such as Britney told us “Should most recently used items be displayed in the Jump List of the CPL when pinned to the taskbar? Something should be shown and nothing is there right now”. In RC the Control Panel Jump List offers quick access to recently used items.
The Control Panel Jump List now surfaces recently used items
2. PowerShell Jump List
By default PowerShell in Beta launched a streamlined console. Customers could load optional modules via distinct shortcuts in the Start Menu. We heard from you that this was a confusing experience. Additionally, PowerShell did not surface a way to launch related tasks such as the Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) from within their console experience. PowerShell now has a robust Jump List that affords a method to load modules, launch the ISE and open documentation.
3. Remote Desktop Jump List
Rajeev made us smile with his comment, “Being able to add my Remote Desktop shortcut to the taskbar—good. Saving settings and showing them in the Recent items section—awesome. Being able to pin the connections in the Jump List, so they always appear—priceless!” Well, Rajeev and others who shared this request, you will be enjoy this functionality in RC.
4. Applying taskbar settings
Have you ever customized the taskbar, only to find your changes were not saved across sessions? Has the taskbar ever inexplicably moved on you after you log in? For a variety of reasons, previous versions of Windows saved taskbar settings only after Explorer exited at the end of a session. However, if the OS is not shutdown properly these settings did not persist. Based on the bugs we saw from Beta, we decided to change our architecture and write these settings within 30 seconds (providing enough time to batch a group of changes) during the session. This means settings will now be more reliable.
5. Multi-touch zoom
One of the pieces of feedback we heard from the Beta was that customers enjoy the new multi-touch zoom feature, but wish it was supported in Windows Explorer. In response to this feedback we have added support for the zoom gesture in Windows Explorer. Using the zoom gesture you can switch between view modes in Explorer such as zooming from Small Icons to Extra Large icons.
6. Invert Selection
In an effort to make improvements to performance, network bandwidth and memory footprint for various scenarios (e.g. libraries, search and search federation), we rearchitected the implementation of the view code in Windows Explorer. As part of this we did not to port “Invert Selection” since this rarely used feature is pretty complex to implement in the context of virtualized lists. Despite the small percentage of usage we’ve recorded, those who missed it have been pretty vocal :-) On one of the blog posts, GGreig summarized what we heard from several of you—“Invert Selection; that's a useful - sometimes absolutely invaluable - little piece of functionality, and I definitely don't want to see it go…Please reinstate Invert Selection.” Given the feedback from enthusiasts, we added back the functionality for RC.
7. Going up?
We’ve heard feedback, especially from those on this blog, that in Windows 7 moving up in the folder hierarchy often requires multiple clicks since longer folder names in the address bar often bump the parent folder into the overflow dropdown.
For RC, we’ve improved the overflow algorithm so that the parent folder’s button will appear in the address bar at all times and therefore going ‘up’ will always be a single click away in a predictable location. When there isn’t enough room to display the parent folder’s full name, it will appear truncated instead of going into the overflow. If space is especially tight, then the current folder’s name may appear truncated too, but in all cases the parent folder’s button will remain as a click target in the address bar.
In addition to making the address bar an even better tool for navigating ‘up’ in Explorer, this change also makes it easier to tell where your are as you navigate around since you can now see at least part of the parent folder’s name. It also avoids introducing any more redundant buttons to the Explorer frame and hence taking away any more screen space from being able to see your address. Also, it goes without saying that if you navigate into a folder, you can still use the back button to go back up. And the keyboard shortcut is also available.
In Beta, a parent folder would collapse into an overflow dropdown
In RC, parent folders always remain within single click access
8. Finding music by artist
We covered several of the improvements to arrangement views in the last post, but one we did not mention is that the “Artist” view in the Music Library now accounts for album artists and compilation albums. ShadowChaser summarized some feedback we heard from a number of customers in a comment: “The only concern I still have is with the ‘Artist’ view… it groups by ‘Contributing Artist’, not ‘Album Artist.’” Grouping only by contributing artist results in too many artists showing up and tracks from the same album getting split up in cases where customers didn’t expect. In RC, the “Artist” view in the Music Library groups together multiple tracks from an album by the common “Album Artist” property when it is available, groups tracks from compilation albums together into a “Various Artists” group and finally resorts to grouping by “Contributing Artist”. This reduces clutter when browsing music collection by artist, in addition to improving consistency with artist views in other applications and devices.
9. New folder is always available
We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback during Beta about adding a top level “New folder” button in Explorer, freeing customers from digging into submenus. A common complaint we received, however, was that the button only appeared when nothing is selected. For RC, we’ve changed this so the “New folder” button will always appear, regardless of selection.
10. Right-click in Windows Explorer
For RC we’ve changed the behavior when right-clicking items in the view to address concerns customers were reporting with the Beta. We heard feedback that it was too hard to find space and get to the view’s background context menu for items such as New and Paste. Previously if one right-clicked over any portion of an item she would get the item’s context menu. We now show the view’s context menu when one clicks on any large white space, including the space between a files name and its properties.
11. Content view for search results
For RC we’ve adjusted the behavior when right-clicking items in the view to address concerns customers were reporting with the Beta. We heard feedback that it was too hard to find space
Content view is the new view mode we’ve added to Windows Explorer for Windows 7. It’s especially useful for search results where it surfaces the most relevant properties for each kind of file (e.g. documents, email, pictures and music) as well as a contextual “snippets” of the file content where the search term match occurred. There are a few changes here in the RC build. One thing we heard feedback on is that customers want to know exactly which properties were being shown for each item, so all properties now appear with labels. The text layout and colors have been updated in response to feedback to make each item even easier to parse and to avoid confusion with the colors used for encrypted or compressed files. We heard loud and clear that many found snippets very useful and wanted to see more of them, so in the RC we’ve allowed longer snippets and we’re using them in more places. In response to feedback we heard from customers when resizing their Explorer window or toggling the preview pane, we’ve made the transitions smoother as additional columns of information about each item are revealed when you make the view larger.
12. Intelligent re-indexing after application installation
In RC the Windows Search service now keeps the index up-to-date whenever support for new file types are introduced to the system. We know that in the past customers have sometimes had difficulties searching for files on their computer after new file handlers are installed. (File handlers govern how content and metadata is made searchable and are typically installed with applications such as Microsoft Office or updates such as the Microsoft Filter Pack).
In Win7 Beta (and previous versions of Windows), customers were required to rebuild their index whenever a new file handler was installed to ensure that any existing files were indexed with the newest functionality. Few customers knew to do this and it was an unnecessarily time consuming operation. Windows Search is more efficient in RC by automatically re-indexing the specific files affected by new file handlers. Rest assured that when one installs support for a certain kind of file, she can search for those files without doing any additional work.
13. Trimming sound schemes to help performance
We know our customers care about performance. We discovered that by just trimming the shutdown and logoff WAV files, we could save up to 400 ms. Every little bit counts.
14. Baseline Device Stage experience
Device Stage continues to enjoy positive reviews. For example, we saw this post on on a blog: “I have to be honest this works very well, it worked with my MP3 player in showing how much charge it had and other details as well is able to display the manual and offer me everything I needed to do with it effortlessly, including having the correct icon and image of the product.” However, we occasionally hear “too bad , my N70 aint supported either :-( …hopefully they are gonna support a ton more device by the time windows 7 get released”.
We took feedback like this to the devices makers and they too would like more integration given the interest from our customers. Several manufacturers are implementing custom experiences, but a large number have also opted to support their older devices in what we call the “baseline” Device Stage experience.
This UX works exactly like full Device Stage; the device image appears on the taskbar whenever it is connected and tasks are exposed in the Jump List. On first connect, the shell Window containing all of the built-in tasks appears automatically and is always just one click away from the desktop icon or device image in the Devices and Printers folder. When the device maker implements a custom Device Stage experience for a device, it gets posted on the Web and the baseline experience gets upgraded when the device is later reconnected. The core functionality is the same, but all of the branding, imaging and vendor-specific tasks are now available automatically in the same convenient UI.
Baseline Device Stage experience for a mobile phone
15. Devices and Printers enhancement
PC and laptop makers such as Lenovo, were very interested in doing more than just showing the machine’s icon in Devices and Printers. They told us they wanted to leverage Device Stage to help them better customize the experience for our mutual customers. In RC double-clicking on the PC icon now offers a Device Stage UX. Like the other Device Stage devices, Device Stage for PC will be enabled when the PC maker has chosen to participate with their system.
Device Stage experience for a PC
16. Unified experience for removing devices
One of the tasks customers perform in Devices & Printers is removing devices that are no longer in use. We received feedback that the remove action varied across different device classes. For example, removing a printer only removed the print queue and for Bluetooth devices it only removed the pairing of the device to the PC. We have changed this action to always completely uninstall the device across all device classes – which is the action that most customers expect.
17. Hardware properties
We know enthusiasts use the Device Manager’s property page to check the status of a device. We heard feedback that this wasn’t convenient and so we now also surface the property page directly from the Devices and Printers experience. Simply right-click on the device and one has one less reason to visit Device Manager.
18. Improved eject experience
The Safely Remove hardware functionality enables customers to make sure that their device is ready for removal. During the Windows 7 Beta, customers still had the Safely Remove Hardware functionality available on the taskbar as well as an Eject option on the context menus of applicable devices in Devices and Printers. Based on feedback, we have integrated these two separate pieces of functionality in RC and have changed its name from “Safely Remove” to “Eject”. The tool Notification Area icon still appears, but its context menu now has the option to open Devices and Printers. Also, we have simplified the options by eliminating the drop-down submenu and made the semantics for eject functionality more consistent across the different kinds of media. For example, ejecting an optical drive now ejects the media instead of the drive and ejecting a USB flash drive ejects the entire device instead of an individual volume.
19. USB device reliability on resume
We got feedback from a number of customers that their USB devices (e.g. keyboards, mice and drives) stopped working after a suspend/resume cycle. We worked with a number of customers to get traces and isolated the causes to address them post-beta builds. The work around in Beta was to unplug and replug the device to get it functional again—easy for external devices but not possible for internal devices. This workaround will not be needed on RC builds.
20. FireWire camera support
Some customers informed us they were unable to connected their 1394 HDV camera and stream its contents to their Beta machine. With the help of customers, we were able to identify a fault with our core 1394 stack and we’ve validated the scenario works in RC. This is another good example of the combination of telemetry and more “manual” follow up on the part of our test team.
21. Add Legacy Hardware functionality restored
The Add Legacy Hardware action was provided in Device Manager on past Windows releases to install non-Plug and Play devices. We removed this functionality for Windows 7 with the belief that this was rarely used. Aaron blogged, “You might have noticed that the old 'Add Legacy Hardware' option seems to be missing. I tend to use this quite a bit whenever I need to add in a Loopback adapter or some piece of hardware that is not quite installing correctly.” As a result, this functionality has been restored to Device Manager for RC to help add non-Plug and Play devices.
22. Increased responsiveness of Add Printer Wizard
There are some situations with legacy network printers in which Plug and Play cannot automatically identify the appropriate driver even when it’s available on Windows Update. For these situations, the Add Printer wizard allows customers to download a list of all the printer drivers available on Windows Update so they can manually select the driver for the specific printer being installed. The process of retrieving the list can take a few minutes and we received beta feedback that many people felt their machine was hung since there was nothing in the UI to let them know that it could take a few minutes. We have made some UI changes to indicate that process of retrieval can take some time. Additionally, we have also improved the overall performance of retrieving the list from Windows Update.
23. Partition size reduction
In Windows Vista, configuring features such as Windows Recovery Environment and Bit Locker required significant customer interaction. Also, a significant amount of drive space was reserved. The Windows 7 System partition enables features to be configured to work “out of the box” so very little customer interaction is needed to configure and utilize them. Based on feedback and telemetry data received through the beta, it became clear that we could cut the drive size in half (from 200M to 100M).
24. Reserved System Partition naming
The system partition is created automatically by Setup when installing on a machine with no existing partitions. During the Beta the existence of this partition on default installs confused many people and feedback indicated that a label telling them that this is space reserved for the system would be helpful when browsing disk configurations, and further help prevent it’s accidental deletion by enthusiasts. We will now label is “System Reserved”.
25. Dual Boot partition drive letter assignment
For a dual boot configuration for the Beta, the other Windows OS wouldn’t get a drive letter and therefore wouldn’t show up in explorer. We heard overwhelmingly from Beta customers that the lack of a drive letter was confusing and even caused some to believe that their secondary OS was lost. Assigning the drive letter makes it visible in explorer and aids in navigation across OS installations.
26. Pagefile reduction
Through extensive use of Beta telemetry data, we have determined we can slim down the Windows disk footprint further by reducing the default page file size to be 100% of the available main memory. It used to be “Memory + 300MB” so on a 1GB RAM system there was an extra third allocated that is no longer required. The pagefile on some occasions will increase in size if required, but we just pre-allocate less.
27. Improved driver support
Based on telemetry data received from the beta, we identified networking drivers that were not available inbox. We worked with ecosystem partners to achieve increased inbox driver coverage across wireless and wired with significant coverage for some of the new ATOM-based laptops.
We hope you enjoyed yet another sneak peek into what’s coming in RC.
Welcome to our first post on a new blog from Microsoft—the Engineering Windows 7 blog, or E7 for short. E7 is hosted by the two senior engineering managers for the Windows 7 product, Jon DeVaan and Steven Sinofsky. Jon and Steven, along with members of the engineering team will post, comment, and participate in this blog.
Beginning with this post together we are going to start looking forward towards the “Windows 7” project. We know there are tons of questions about the specifics of the project and strong desire to know what’s in store for the next major release of Windows. Believe us, we are just as excited to start talking about the release. Over the past 18 months since Windows Vista’s broad availability, the team has been hard at work creating the next Windows product.
The audience of enthusiasts, bloggers, and those that are the most passionate about Windows represent the folks we are dedicating this blog to. With this blog we’re opening up a two-way discussion about how we are making Windows 7. Windows has all the challenges of every large scale software project—picking features, designing them, developing them, and delivering them with high quality. Windows has an added challenge of doing so for an extraordinarily diverse set of customers. As a team and as individuals on the team we continue to be humbled by this responsibility.
We strongly believe that success for Windows 7 includes an open and honest, and two-way, discussion about how we balance all of these interests and deliver software on the scale of Windows. We promise and will deliver such a dialog with this blog.
Planning a product like Windows involves systematic learning from customers of all types. In terms of planning the release we’ve been working with a wide variety of customers and partners (PC makers, hardware developers, enterprise customers, developers, and more) since the start of the project. We also continue our broad consumer learning through telemetry (Customer Experience Improvement Program), usability studies, and more. One area this blog will soon explore is all the different ways we learn from customers and the marketplace that inform the release.
We have two significant events for developers and the overall ecosystem around Windows this fall. The Professional Developers Conference (PDC) on October 27 and the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) the following week both represent the first venues where we will provide in-depth technical information about Windows 7. This blog will provide context over the next 2+ months with regular posts about the behind the scenes development of the release and continue through the release of the product.
In leading up to this blog we have seen a lot of discussion in blogs about what Microsoft might be trying to accomplish by maintaining a little bit more control over the communication around Windows 7 (some might say that this is a significant understatement). We, as a team, definitely learned some lessons about “disclosure” and how we can all too easily get ahead of ourselves in talking about features before our understanding of them is solid. Our intent with Windows 7 and the pre-release communication is to make sure that we have a reasonable degree of confidence in what we talk about when we do talk. Again, top of mind for us is the responsibility we feel to make sure we are not stressing priorities, churning resource allocations, or causing strategic confusion among the tens of thousands of partners and customers who care deeply and have much invested in the evolution of Windows.
Related to disclosure is the idea of how we make sure not to set expectations around the release that end up disappointing you—features that don’t make it, claims that don’t stick, or support we don’t provide. Starting from the first days of developing Windows 7, we have committed as a team to “promise and deliver”. That’s our goal—share with you what we’re going to get done, why we’re doing it, and deliver it with high quality and on time.
We’re excited about this blog. As active bloggers on Microsoft’s intranet we are both looking forward to turning our attention and blogging energies towards the community outside Microsoft. We know the ins and outs of blogging and expect to have fun, provide great information, and also make a few mistakes. We know we’ll misspeak or what we say will be heard differently than we intended. We’re not worried. All we ask is that we have a dialog based on mutual respect and the shared goal of making a great release of Windows 7.
Our intent is to post “regularly”. We’ll watch the comments and we will definitely participate both in comments and potentially in follow-up posts as required. We will make sure that members of the Windows 7 development team represent themselves as such as well. While we want to keep the dialog out in the open, please feel free to use email to email@example.com should you wish to. In particular, email is a good way to suggest topics we might have a chance to discuss on the blog.
With that, we conclude our welcome post and ask you to stay tuned and join us in this dialog about the engineering of Windows 7.
Steven and Jon
Please note the availability of this blog in several other languages via the links on the nav pane. These posts are also created by members of our development team and we welcome dialog on these sites as well. We will continue to expand the list in other languages based on feedback.
Greetings! Based on the data we’re seeing we know a lot of folks on MSDN/TechNet/Connect are probably busy using the RC (Release Candidate) for Windows 7. Thank you!!! And of course many folks are looking forward to downloading the RC and using it as we expand the downloads—we’re looking forward to the participation and seeing the data that will help us validate the RC. We’ve talked about making sure that you are “in control” of Windows 7 and one of the ways that people are in control of their PC is to personalize the experience. With the RC you’re going to see some of the new personalization “elements” in Windows 7. In this post, Denise Trabona and Samuel Moreau of our product design team provide a behind the scenes look at some of the work. Be sure to check out the links below the images as you can see a lot more work by these talented artists. Note, these are just thumbnails for this post so be sure to enjoy the full screen images in the RC. --Steven
PS: Just a reminder, that just as with the pre-beta and beta we’ll be testing out Windows Update and the system for doing patches and updates. So along with new drivers you might also see some other updates flowing through the system.
One of the most exciting parts of engineering Windows 7 has been the wide variety of work that gets done over the course of a full product cycle. As evidenced by the variety of topics just in this blog, one can see that we are hard at work at all levels of the product. For fun, we thought folks might enjoy hearing some of the story behind the new personalization work in Windows 7.
As some folks have noticed, we are unveiling some new personalization content (wallpapers, glass colors and sounds schemes) in the RC build which allows people greater flexibility to personalize their experience. One thing we know is that Windows users love to express themselves by changing the desktop background and like many past releases, Windows 7 includes content in the box that allows you to begin customizing your experience immediately.
A picture speaks a thousand words
In developing the personalization features, we knew that we wanted great content for people to express their personal style. Because the desktop background is such a vibrant surface, we wanted to focus on providing quality content that demonstrated how creative people could be with this feature. When folks send us screenshots using the feedback button, we are regularly inspired by the rich diversity and personality of the wallpapers that people choose.
As we thought about how we wanted to approach personalization in Windows 7, we knew one way was to honor our lineage. In the past photography has been featured heavily Windows. Some of that photography has been quite beautiful and has become a proud tradition we wanted to maintain. In addition, we also wanted to explore new territory and expand our visual palette. In the realm of photography, we kept a theme focused on landscape photography which is our tradition, but added new themes for architecture and nature. Much of the this imagery is from our stock imagery partners, but we also had the good fortune to work with a talented local photographer named Will Austin, who has photographed all over the world on many subjects with an emphasis on architecture. Will’s photos provide a little bit of the local flavor of the Seattle area that we are proud to call home.
Raising the bar of inspiration and delight
With the photography covered, we tried to broaden our coverage to include additional images that would inspire, delight and invigorate people’s imaginations. We wanted to stretch into some new content that felt unique, timely, and with a distinct point of view. Our goal was content that balanced the timelessness of great photography with graphical illustrations that are energetic, modern, and fresh. On top of it all it was also important to achieve a rich variety in the illustrations to appeal to different tastes, genders and ages, color ranges from quiet to loud, and from large compositions to small and detailed.
Inspired by our neighbors in Zune, we worked with an agency called 72 and Sunny to search for illustrators around the world to create one-of-a-kind art work for you to have in Windows 7. In the process of looking through tons of samples, we sought a group of artists whose styles seemed both incredibly varied, to cover the broad diversity we were after, and maintained a common thread that we felt was applicable to the overall tone we were striving to achieve. Then began the fun part, with little more than some simple guiding words (light, energetic, inspiring, optimistic, etc.), the artists went off with a blank canvas to create concept sketches of their original pieces.
Iterate and refine
We still remember the first chance we got to review the artist’s initial sketches and concept work, and right from that moment, we knew that these images were going to be a lot of fun. The next step was to iterate back and forth a few times to make sure certain goals were achieved and get little details just right. For example, a couple of things that were important to us were how the image flowed under the new task bar and striking the right balance between visually compelling, and not too distracting when it came to finding that important file on your desktop. It’s tricky to find the right balance and we were fortunate to have an amazingly talented set of artists and our friends at 72 and Sunny to work with on this project.
Windows is for the whole world
Finally, we wanted to recognize the global audience of Windows by seeking out illustrators with varied backgrounds and styles with the intention of representing and appealing to people all around the world.
With that, we are honored to introduce the amazingly talented artists and the work that they contributed to Windows 7 personalization.
Yuko Kondo From Japan, now resides in London, England
Yuko Kondo From Japan, now resides in London, England
Katharina Leuzinger Born to Swiss and Japanese parents in Zurich, Switzerland, Katharina Leuzinger now resides in London, England
Katharina Leuzinger Born to Swiss and Japanese parents in Zurich, Switzerland, Katharina Leuzinger now resides in London, England
Osmand Nosse Wicklow, Ireland
Osmand Nosse Wicklow, Ireland
Klaus Haapaniemi From Finland, now based in London, England
Klaus Haapaniemi From Finland, now based in London, England
Chris Sickles of Red Nose Studios Indiana, United States
Chris Sickles of Red Nose Studios Indiana, United States
Punga Buenos Aires, Argentina
Punga Buenos Aires, Argentina
Pomme Chan Born and educated in Bangkok, Pomme Chan now resides in London, England.
Pomme Chan Born and educated in Bangkok, Pomme Chan now resides in London, England.
Kustaa Saksi Amsterdam, Netherlands
Kustaa Saksi Amsterdam, Netherlands
Paul Hwang and Benjamin Lee of Nanosphere Los Angeles, California
Paul Hwang and Benjamin Lee of Nanosphere Los Angeles, California
Adhemas Batista From Sao Paulo Brazil, now resides in Los Angeles, California
Adhemas Batista From Sao Paulo Brazil, now resides in Los Angeles, California
Kai and Sunny London, England
Kai and Sunny London, England
Nan Na Hvass Born to a Danish father and Chinese mother in Swaziland, Africa, Nan Na Hvass now resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Nan Na Hvass Born to a Danish father and Chinese mother in Swaziland, Africa, Nan Na Hvass now resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.
We hope this post has given you some insight into the Windows 7 content. We also hope that we achieved the goals we set out for ourselves with this element of Windows 7.
-Denise Trabona and Samuel Moreau
Ed. Note: This is our first post from a senior member of the development team. Allow me to introduce Michael Fortin who is one of Microsoft’s Distinguished Engineers and leads the Fundamentals feature team that is in our Core Operating System group. Michael leads performance and reliability efforts across the Windows platform. --Steven (PS: Be sure to visit www.microsoft.com/ie and try out the beta 2 release of Internet Explorer 8).
For Windows 7, we have a dedicated team focused on startup performance, but in reality the effort extends across the entire Windows division and beyond. Our many hardware and software partners are working closely with us and can rightly be considered an extension to the team.
Startup can be one of three experiences; boot, resume from sleep, or resume from hibernate. Although resume from sleep is the default, and often 2 to 5 seconds based on common hardware and standard software loads, this post is primarily about boot as that experience has been commented on frequently. For Windows 7, a top goal is to significantly increase the number of systems that experience very good boot times. In the lab, a very good system is one that boots in under 15 seconds.
For a PC to boot fast a number of tasks need to be performed efficiently and with a high degree of parallelism.
Because systems and configurations differ, boot times can vary significantly. This is verified by many lab results, but can also be seen in independent analysis, such as that conducted by Ed Bott. Sample data from Ed’s population of systems found that only 35% of boots took less than 30 seconds to give control to the user. Though Ed’s data is from a small population, his data is nicely in line with what we’re observing. Windows Vista SP1 data (below) also indicates that roughly 35% of systems boot in 30 seconds or less, 75% of systems boot in 50 seconds or less. The Vista SP1 data is real world telemetry data. It comes to us from the very large number of systems (millions) where users have chosen to send anonymous data to Microsoft via the Customer Experience Improvement Program.
From our perspective, too few systems consistently boot fast enough and we have to do much better. Obviously the systems that are greater than 60 seconds have something we need to dramatically improve—whether these are devices, networking, or software issues. As you can see there are some systems experiencing very long boot times. One of the things we see in the PC space is this variability of performance—variability arises from the variety of choices, and also the variety of quality of components of any given PC experience. There are also some system maintenance tasks that can contribute to long boot times. If a user opts to install a large software update, the actual updating of the system may occur during the next boot. Our metrics will capture these and unfortunately they can take minutes to complete. Regardless of the cause, a big part of the work we need to do as members of the PC ecosystem is address long boot times.
In both Ed’s sample and our telemetry data, boot time is meant to reflect when a machine is ready and responsive for the user. It includes logging in to the system and getting to a usable desktop. It is not a perfect metric, but one that does capture the vast majority of issues. On Windows 7 and Vista systems, the metric is captured automatically and stored in the system event log. Ed’s article covers this in depth.
We realize there are other perceptions that users deem as reflecting boot time, such as when the disk stops, when their apps are fully responsive, or when the start menu and desktop can be used. Also, “Post Boot” time (when applications in the Startup group run and some delayed services execute), the period before Windows boot is initiated, and BIOS time can be significant. In our efforts, we’ve not lost sight of what users consider being representative of boot.
Before discussing some of our Windows 7 efforts, we’d like to point out there is considerable engagement with our partners underway. In scanning dozens of systems, we’ve found plenty of opportunity for improvement and have made changes. Illustrating that, please consider the following data taken from a real system. As the system arrived to us, the off-the-shelf configuration had a ~45 second boot time. Performing a clean install of Vista SP1 on the same system produced a consistent ~23 second boot time. Of course, being a clean install, there were many fewer processes, services and a slightly different set of drivers (mostly the versions were different). However, we were able to take the off-the-shelf configuration and optimize it to produce a consistent boot time of ~21 seconds, ~2 seconds faster than the clean install because some driver/BIOS changes could be made in the optimized configuration.
For this same system, it is worth noting the resume from sleep time is approximately 2 seconds, achieving a nearly instant on experience. We do encourage users to choose sleep as an alternative to boot.
As an example Windows 7 effort, we are working very hard on system services. We aim to dramatically reduce them in number, as well as reduce their CPU, disk and memory demands. Our perspective on this is simple; if a service is not absolutely required, it shouldn’t be starting and a trigger should exist to handle rare conditions so that the service operates only then.
Of course, services exist to complete user experiences, even rare ones. Consider the case where a new keyboard, mouse or tablet HW is added to the system while it was off. If this new HW isn’t detected and drivers installed to make the HW work during startup, then the user may not be able to enter their credentials and log into the machine. For a given user, this may be a very rare or never encountered event. For a population of 100s of millions of users, this can happen frequently enough to warrant having mechanisms to support it. In Windows 7, we will support this scenario and many others with fewer auto start services because more comprehensive service trigger mechanisms have been created.
As noted above, device and driver initialization can be a significant contributor as well. In Windows 7, we’ve focused very hard on increasing parallelism of driver initialization. This increased parallelism decreases the likelihood that a few slower devices/drivers will impact the overall boot time.
In terms of reading files from the disk, Windows 7 has improvements in the “prefetching” logic and mechanisms. Prefetching was introduced way back in Windows XP. Since today’s disks have differing performance characteristics, the scheduling logic has undergone some changes to keep pace and stay efficient. As an example, we are evaluating the prefetcher on today’s solid state storage devices, going so far as to question if is required at all. Ultimately, analysis and performance metrics captured on an individual system will dynamically determine the extent to which we utilize the prefetcher.
There are improved diagnostic experiences in Windows 7 as well. We aim to quickly identify specific issues on individual systems, and provide help to assist in resolving the issues. We believe this is an appropriate way to inform users about some problems, such as having too many startup applications or the presence of lengthy domain-oriented logon scripts. As many users know, having too many startup applications is often the cause of long boot times. Few users, however, are familiar with implications of having problematic boot or logon scripts. In Windows XP, Vista and in Windows 7, the default behavior for Windows is to log the user into the desktop without waiting for potentially lengthy networking initialization or scripts to run. In corporate environments, however, it is possible for IT organizations to change the default and configure client systems to contact servers across the network. Unfortunately, when configuring clients to run scripts, domain administrators typically do so in a synchronous and blocking fashion. As a result, boot and logon can take minutes if networking timeouts or server authentication issues exist. Additionally, those scripts can run very expensive programs that consume CPU, disk and memory resources.
In addition to working on Windows 7 specific features and services, we are sharing tools, tests and data with our partners. The tools are available to enthusiasts as well. The tools we use internally to detect and correct boot issues are freely available today here as a part of the Windows Performance Toolkit. While not appropriate for most users, the tools are proving to be very helpful for some.
One of the topics we want to talk about in the future which we know has been written about a great deal and is the subject of many comments, is the role that additional software beyond the initial Windows installation plays in overall system performance. The sheer breadth and depth of software for Windows means that some software will not have the high quality one would hope, while the vast majority is quite good. Microsoft must continue to provide the tools for developers to write high performance software and the tools for end-users to identify the software on their system that might contribute to performance that isn’t meeting expectations. Windows itself must also continue to improve the defensive tactics it uses to isolate and inform the end-user about software that might contribute to poor performance.
Another potential future topic pertains to configuration changes a user can make on their own system. Many recommended changes aren’t helpful at all. For instance, we’ve found the vast majority of “registry tweak” recommendations to be bogus. Here’s one of my favorites. If you perform a Live search for “Enable Superfetch on XP”, you’ll get a large set of results. I can assure you, on Windows XP there is no Superfetch functionality and no value in setting the registry key noted on these sites. As with that myth, there are many recommendations pertaining to CPU scheduling, memory management and other configuration changes that aren’t helpful to system performance.
Startup is one topic on performance. As described in the previous post we want to continue the discussion around this topic. What are some of the elements you’d like to discuss more?
As we connect through this blog and through all of those talking about Windows 7 it is clear that folks have a lot of passion around many topics. We learned early on about the passion around the boot/startup sequence and how important it was for that to go by quickly! At the same time, we know that it is really dull to watch a HDD light blink when resuming a machine from hibernate or powering up a machine. To improve this first connection with people, we set out to improve the boot sequence—jazz it up if you will. It sounds pretty easy, but as we looked into solving this we found it is a pretty significant engineering challenge. Our goal was to have fun while having no impact on the boot performance of the system. To explain this engineering and describe the boot sequence, Karen Wong, a program manager on our Core User Experience feature team, authored this post. --Steven
We use the word “personality” to refer to some of the characteristics of software that connect emotionally with people. ‘Light’ and ‘energy’ are some of the terms we use to describe the personality of Windows 7. As we designed Windows 7 it became clear that in order to showcase these elements of Win7’s personality, we needed go above and beyond what we did with Vista’s boot visuals.
From a design perspective, we know that the visual presentation of a feature plays a key role in the user’s perception of performance and quality. Our objective was to make Windows boot beautiful and was inspired by our Windows 7 personality of light and energy; and the way these forms reveal themselves in nature became our design palette. Words such as “bioluminescence”, “organic”, “humble beauty”, and “atmosphere” came up frequently in our brainstorming sessions. We know that in isolation these might sound a bit corny, but this is all part of the overall goals of Windows 7.
Over two dozen boot sequence designs were created, reviewed, and user tested to evaluate them against our goals. Designs varied in the saturation and/or brightness of color, the complexity of motion, and lighting effects. Here are some sketches from our design journey:
The final design in Windows 7 shows energy approaching from four directions, that join to form a light that projects through a window (of course it is no coincidence that the Windows logo resembles a window!). A subtle pulse indicates progress thereafter; another design detail that reinforces the liveliness of Windows 7’s personality.
From a design perspective, this new boot sequence met all of our design goals, and we were excited to send it out into the world. However, boot had to be more than just a pretty face. From an engineering perspective, we had some clear challenges to overcome, as we knew that “time to desktop” was still the most important thing to users. Visual delight could not trump getting to the desktop faster and many of you have been critical of features that are dubbed “eye candy” – the boot sequence is not going to be one of those features for sure.
If we had kept everything the same from Vista and simply updated the boot animation to the new Win7 look, we would not have achieved new levels performance and quality that we aspire to. In fact, significant code changes were required in order to make the new boot animation even possible in Win7.
In Vista, the boot loader is using a low resolution 640x480 screen, and file size required for the green animated progress bar is very small. Furthermore, the Vista boot screen had low color depth – 16 bits per pixel (bpp). We increased this in Win7 to 32 bpp, which enabled the color richness you see in the new boot animation. Updates to the Vista boot progress indicator were achieved via the CPU, which was susceptible to I/O time, therefore causing occasional glitches in the animation. With the low resolution screen, limited color depth, and susceptibility to glitches – we knew we had our work cut out for us if we wanted to build something fancier for Win7.
We started with the Win7 boot loader using a different mechanism to display the boot animation. It gets a pointer to the frame buffer from the firmware (either BIOS or UEFI firmware), and displays a higher resolution image (1024 x 768). It animates the image while the kernel and boot critical device drivers are loaded into memory. Since the native graphics driver for the display is not loaded into memory and initialized yet, the animation is run by using the CPU, and by updating the frame buffer for the graphics display. We made an additional optimization - to have the CPU use write-combined caching to accelerate performance.
Michael Fortin’s blog entry on boot performance describes how the early stage of boot is I/O bound, as it is loading the kernel, device driver files, and other system component files. We therefore limited the dimensions of the boot animation to a small region of the screen, to avoid introducing any delay during the early stage of boot. A larger animation area would require loading a larger set of animation images, which adds to the file I/O. The animation images are compressed by incorporating the bitmaps as resources, which are then compressed using WIM image compression. WIM image compression reduces the overall file size, thereby reducing the I/O required to read them in. It also reduces the on-disk footprint. Animating a smaller region of the screen, and using a slightly lower frame rate also keeps the CPU overhead of updating the frame buffer to a low enough level, that there is no added overhead to the boot time.
Another change we made that improved not only the performance of boot, but the quality, was the reduction of transitions in graphics mode. These transitions occur during initialization of the graphics subsystem and Windows shell. In Vista, these cause the boot experience to be less smooth, as the display changes (flashes black) a few times before presenting the user with a logon screen (or the user’s desktop if there is only one system user).
After looking deep into our boot architecture for performance and quality improvements to enable the new animation, we were pleasantly surprised that the act of beautifying the boot animation created a new opportunity to further decrease time to desktop. In Vista, when a customer powered on the machine, the boot sequence included an animation of the Windows flag, or ‘pearl’, before reaching the login screen (or the desktop if the user is set to auto-login). Due to the Vista boot architecture constraints, this pearl animation can only play after boot code has already completed.
Vista Boot Sequence, with Pearl Animation
Now that new boot visuals display a rich animation that reflects the Windows 7 personality, the pearl animation seemed out-of-date and redundant, and was removed. As a result, we saved the time it takes to play this animation after boot is complete.
Windows 7 Boot Sequence, Pearl Animation Removed
You may also be wondering what happened to the startup sound. In Vista, the sound had to be synchronized with the pearl animation to produce the highest quality experience. This has potential performance impact on some hardware, as we require the system’s sound stack to be loaded to complete the pearl sequence. In the cases when we are waiting for the system’s sound playback to be ready, a delay can occur in getting to the desktop. As such, we changed the sound to now play asynchronously, anytime after the logon screen loads. On most hardware that we tested, this is right when the logon screen displays. We heard customer feedback in Vista that the sound played and caught your attention, but boot was not yet complete. So in addition to performance benefits, this change also improves the user experience by letting users know when their machine is ready for use.
The sum of the boot code optimizations and removal of the pearl animation from Vista enabled us to add a rich, high-quality animation during boot, with no increase in the time it takes a user to reach the desktop.
The boot experience varies depending on the user’s hardware. We made some design decisions to ensure the best visual experience across a wide range of hardware, however the time it takes a system to get to the desktop is mainly hardware-dependent.
For example, you may notice that there is a delay before the animation starts during boot, and this delay time varies depending on system hardware. To optimize for showing immediate feedback, we actually display text on the boot screen before Windows has had a chance to start all the processors on the system. It is only when that is complete that the animation can run asynchronously to the rest of the I/O during boot (which as discussed earlier is necessary for optimal performance and quality).
You may also notice that the Windows flag’s dimensions during boot may change slightly on different screen sizes. Due to technical constraints in Win7, boot is always displayed in our recommended minimum resolution – 1024x768, regardless of the system’s native resolution. Today, most hardware is set to stretch the boot sequence to fill the screen, as opposed to centering it. Consequently, the boot animation is usually stretched on screens that are of different aspect ratio than 1024x768; however, we did test the sequence on common aspect ratios to ensure that visual quality was preserved.
With all this hard work to improve the boot experience, we couldn’t let it go to waste. As such, users will also have this experience when they resume from hibernate.
We know many of you might be asking if you could include your own animation or customize this sequence. This is not something we will support in Windows 7. We’ve talked about and shown a great many “personalization” elements of Windows 7 already, such as the new themepacks which you can try out in the beta. The reasons for this should be pretty clear, which is that we cannot guarantee the security of the system to allow for arbitrary elements to be loaded into memory at boot time. In the early stages of starting Windows, the system needs to be locked down and execute along a very carefully monitored and known state as tools such as firewalls and anti-virus checking are not yet available to secure the system. And of course, even though we’re sure everyone would follow the requirements around image size, content, etc. due to performance we would not want to build in all the code necessary to guarantee that all third parties would be doing so. One of our design goals of Windows 7 was around making sure there are ample opportunities to express yourself and to make sure your PC is really your PC and so we hope that you’ll understand why this element is one we need to maintain consistently.
This was a quick behind the scenes look at something that we hope you enjoy. With Windows 7 we set out to make the experience of starting a Windows PC a little more enjoyable, and from the feedback we’ve seen here and in other forums, we think we’re heading in the right direction. In addition to our efforts to make boot fast, we also have a goal to make the system robust enough, such that most of you will not see this new boot animation that often and when you do it will be both enjoyable and fast!
We’ve come a long way in engineering Windows 7 since we first provided an engineering preview of Windows 7 and the work we are doing to support the touch interface paradigm back at the D: All Things Digital conference. We chose to kick-off the discussion about engineering Windows 7 with touch scenarios because we know this is a long-lead effort that requires work across the full ecosystem to fully realize the benefit. For Windows 7, touch support is engineered by building on our advances in input technology we began with the TabletPC work on Windows XP. Touch in Windows 7 requires improvements in hardware, driver software, core Windows user experience, and of course application support. By having this support in an open platform, consumers and developers will benefit from a wide variety of choices in hardware, software, and different PC form factors. Quite a few folks have been a little skeptical of touch, often commenting about having fingerprints on their monitor or something along those lines. We think touch will become broadly available as the hardware evolves and while it might be the primary input for some form factors (such as a wall mounted display in a hospital, kiosk, or point of sale) it will also prove to richly augment many scenarios such as reading on a convertible laptop or a “kitchen PC”. One of my favorite experiences recently was watching folks at a computer retailer experience one of the currently available all-in-one touch desktops and then moving to another all-in-one and continuing to interact with the screen—except the PC was not interacting back. The notion that you can touch a screen seems to be becoming second nature rather quickly. This post is our first dedicated blog on the subject. This is a joint effort by several people from the touch team, mostly Reed Townsend, Dave Matthews, and Ian LeGrow. -Steven
Windows Touch is designed to enhance how you interact with a PC. For those of us that have been living and breathing touch for the last two years we’re excited to be able to deliver the capability to people using Windows 7. In this blog we’re going to talk about what we’ve done to make Windows touchable. We approached this from a number of different directions: key improvements to the core Windows UI, optimizing for touch in key experiences, working with hardware partners to provide robust and reliable touch PCs, and providing a multitouch platform for applications.
With Windows 7 we have enriched the Windows experience with touch, making touch a first-class way to interact with your PC alongside the mouse and keyboard. We focused on common activities and refined them thoughtfully with touch in mind. You will have the freedom of direct interaction, like being able to reach out and slowly scroll a web page then flick quickly to move through it. With new touch optimized applications from creative software developers you will be able to immerse yourself as you explore you photos, browse the globe, or go after bad guys in your favorite games.
While providing this touchable experience, we made sure you are getting the full Windows 7 experience and not a sub-set just for touch. We’ve been asked if we are creating a new Touch UI, or “Touch Shell” for Windows – something like Media Center that completely replaces the UI of Windows with a version that is optimized for touch. As you can see from the beta, we are focused on bringing touch through the Windows experience and delivering optimized touch interface where appropriate. A touch shell for launching only touch-specific applications would not meet customers’ needs – there would be too much switching between “touch” mode and Windows applications. Instead, we focused our efforts on augmenting the overall experience so that Windows works great with touch.
We took a variety of approaches – some broad, and some very targeted to support this goal:
Overall, the Windows Touch features are designed to work together to deliver a great end-to-end touch experience. For example, the goal with IE8 was to deliver a seamless touch browsing experience, this includes the panning, zooming, URL entry, and several interface enhancements. For this reason, all the new touch features require the presence of a multi-touch digitizer – more on that further down.
The Windows Touch gestures are the basic actions you use to interact with Windows or an application using touch. As we noted above, because the gestures are built into the core of Windows, they are designed to work with all applications, even ones that were never designed with touch in mind.
Our mantra with gestures has been “Predictable + Reliable = Habits”. To be predictable the action should relate to the result – if you drag content down, the content should move down. To be reliable, the gesture should do roughly the same action everywhere, and the gesture needs to be responsive and robust to reasonable variations. If these conditions are met then people are far more likely to develop habits and use gestures without consciously thinking about it.
We’ve intentionally focused on this small set of system-wide gestures in Win7. By keeping the set small we reduce misrecognition errors – making them more reliable. We reduce latencies since we need less data to indentify gestures. It’s also easier for all of us to remember a small set! The core gestures are:
For touch gestures, seeing them in action is important so here is a brief video showing the gestures in action:
In order to make the gestures reliable, we tuned the gesture detection engine with sample gesture input provided by real people using touch in pre-release builds; these tuned gestures are what you will see in the RC build. We have a rigorous process for tuning. Similar to our handwriting recognition data collection, we have tools to record the raw touch data from volunteers while they perform a set of scripted tasks. We collected thousands of samples from hundreds of people. These data were then mined looking for problems and optimization opportunities. The beauty of the system is that we can replay the test data after making any changes to the gesture engine, verifying improvements and guarding against regression in other areas.
This has led to several important optimizations. For example, we found that zooms and rotates were sometimes confused. Detecting zoom gestures only in applications that don’t use rotation has resulted in a 15% improvement in zoom detection.
Further analysis showed that many short gestures were going unrecognized. The gesture recognition heuristics needed to see 100ms or 5mm worth of data before making a decision about what gesture the user was performing. The concern that originally led to these limits was that making a decision about which gesture was being performed too early would lead to misrecognition. In fact, when we looked at the collected user data, we found we could remove those limits entirely – the gesture recognition heuristics performed very well in ambiguous situations. After applying the change and replaying the collected gesture sample data, we found zoom and rotate detection improved by about 6% each, and short scrolling improved by almost 20%!
Gestures are built into the system in such a way that many applications that have no awareness of touch respond appropriately, we have done this by creating default handlers that simulate the mouse or mouse wheel. Generally this gives a very good experience, but there are applications where some gestures don’t work smoothly or at all. In these cases the application needs to respond to the gesture message directly.
In Windows, several experiences have been gesture enabled. We’ve spent a considerable amount of effort on IE8 – ensuring scrolling and zooming are smooth and that back and forward are at your fingertips. Media Center, which is a completely custom interface ideally suited to touch, added smooth touch scrolling in galleries and the home screen. The XPS Viewer has gesture support that will could become a model for many document viewing apps. Scrolling and zoom work as you would expect. When zooming out beyond a single page, pages start to tile so you can view many at a time. When zoomed out in that fashion, double tapping on any page jumps back to the default view of that page. A two-finger tap restores the view to 100% magnification. These predictable behaviors become habit forming quickly.
A major benefit of the Windows ecosystem is diversity – PCs come in all shapes and sizes. To help ensure that there is a great Windows Touch experience across the many different types of PCs we have defined a set of measurements and tests for Windows Touch that are part of the Windows Logo. We’ve been working with touch hardware partners since the beginning of Windows 7 to define the requirements and ensure they are ready for launch.
Our approach has been to provide an abstraction of the underlying hardware technology. We’ve specified a requirements for the quantitative aspects of the device, such as accuracy, sample rate, and resolution, based on the requirements to successfully enable touch features. For example, we have determined the necessary accuracy values for a device so people can successfully target common UI elements like close boxes, or what sample rate and resolution are required to ensure quality gesture recognition.
The requirements form the basis for the Windows Touch logo program. For consumers, the logo tells you that the PC and all of its components are optimized for Windows. Component level logo, which is what we grant to Touch digitizers helps the OEMs choose a device that will deliver a great touch experience.
Based on the quantitative requirements, we built an interactive test suite that includes 43 separate tests, all validating the core requirements under different conditions. There are single point accuracy tests at various locations on the screen, including the corners which are often harder for accuracy but critical to Windows. There are also several dynamic tests where accuracy is measured while drawing lines on the screen – see the screenshot below of Test 7. In this test, two lines are simultaneously drawn using touch along the black line from the start to the end. The touch tracings must remain within 2.5 mm of the black line between the start and end points. The first image below shows a passing test where the entire tracing is green (apologies for the fuzziness – these are foot long tracings from a large screen that have been scaled down).
Figure 1: A passing line accuracy test from the Windows 7 Touch logo test tool
Not all devices pass the tests. Below is a screenshot of a device that is failing. This one has some noise – notice the deviation from the line in red. These errors need to be resolved before it would receive the logo. Errors like this can result in misrecognized gestures.
Figure 2: A failing line accuracy test from the Windows 7 Touch logo test tool
To ensure repeatability of the tests, we’ve built a set of plastic jigs with tracing cut-outs, see photo below. This particular jig is used for 5 of the tests and measures accuracy while tracing an arc.
Figure 3. Plastic jigs with tracing cut-outs for testing.
The testing tool is available to our partners now, we’re working closely with several of them to help tune the performance of their devices to meet the requirements and deliver a great touch experience. We have set-up an in-house testing facility that will be testing every device submitted for Logo.
With the Release Candidate, OEMs and IHVs will be able to finalize the logo process for systems designed for Windows 7. Today we already have several hardware partners that have provided us with devices and drivers for testing.
We also want to talk a little about the touch platform for software developers. Windows 7 provides a rich touch platform for applications. We’ve already mentioned gestures, there’s also a lower level platform that gives developers complete control over the touch experience. We think about it in a Good-Better-Best software stack.
The “good” bucket is what touch-unaware applications get for free from Windows 7. Windows provides default behaviors for many gestures, and will trigger those behaviors in your application in response to user input. For example, if someone tries touch scrolling over a window that is touch-unaware, we can detect the presence of various types of scrollbars and will scroll them. Similarly, when the user zooms, we inject messages that provide an approximation of the zoom gesture in many apps. As a developer you can ensure that the default gestures work just by using standard scrollbars and responding to ctrl-mouse wheel messages.
The “better” bucket is focused on adding direct gesture support and other small behavior and UI changes to make apps more touch-friendly. For instance, there is a new Win32 window message, WM_GESTURE (preliminary MSDN docs), that informs the application a gesture was performed over its window. Each message contains information about the gesture, such as how far the user is scrolling or zooming and where the center of the gesture is.
Applications that respond to gestures directly have full control over how they behave. For example, the default touch scrolling is designed to work in text centric windows that scroll primarily vertically (like web pages or documents), dragging horizontally does selection rather than scrolling. In most applications this works well, but if an app has primarily horizontal scrolling then the defaults would have to be overridden. Also, for some applications the default scroll can appear chunky. This is fine with a mouse wheel, but it feels unnatural with touch. Apps may also want to tune scrolling to end on boundaries, such as cells in a spreadsheet, or photos in a list. IE8 has a custom behavior where it opens a link in a new tab if you drag over it rather than click it.
In addition to gestures, there are subtle optimizations applications can make for touch if they check to see if touch is in use. Many of the subtle touch behavior optimizations in Windows were enabled in this manner. Larger Jump List item spacing for touch, larger hot spots for triggering window arranging, and the press and hold behavior on the desktop Aero Peek button with touch are all features written with the mouse in mind, but when activated via touch use slightly different parameters.
Applications or features that fall into the “best” bucket are designed from the ground up to be great touch experiences. Apps in this bucket would build on top of WM_TOUCH – the window message that provides raw touch data to the application. Developers can use this to go beyond the core system gestures and build custom gesture support for their applications. They can also provide visualizations of the touch input (e.g. a raster editing application), build custom controls, and other things we haven’t thought of yet!
We also provide a COM version of the Manipulations and Inertia APIs from Surface. The Manipulations API simplifies interactions where an arbitrary number of fingers are on an object into simple 2D affine transforms and also allows for multiple interactions to be occurring simultaneously. For instance, if you were writing a photo editing application, you could grab two photos at the same time using however many fingers you wanted and rotate, resize, and translate the photos within the app. Inertia provides a very basic physics model for applications and, in the example above, would allow you to “toss” the photos and have them decelerate and come to a stop naturally.
We’ve previously demonstrated, Microsoft Surface Globe, an interactive globe done in partnership with the Surface effort. Spinning the globe works as you would expect from a real-world globe, but with a touchable globe you can grab and stretch the view to zoom in, rotate, and move the view around. Interacting with the globe and exploring the world is the majority of the UI, and it is exceedingly easy to use with touch. Other features like search and adding markers to the map have also been designed with touch in mind.
Here’s another video to get an idea of what we’re talking about:
We’re eagerly looking forward to seeing new touch-optimized user interfaces and interactions. If you’re thinking about writing touch applications or adding touch support to your existing app, you should start with the MSDN documentation and samples.
We’ve noted several touch updates in the RC. If you have the Windows 7 Beta you can experiment with touch using a PC that supports multiple touch points. Please note that the multitouch PCs available today were developed while the Windows 7 requirements were also defined, so while we believe they can support Windows 7’s requirements, only the maker of the PC can provide the logoed drivers for Windows 7 and support the PC on Windows 7. Keeping that caveat in mind, today there are a few multitouch PCs on the market:
To enable multitouch capabilities on these PCs running the Windows 7 Beta you will need to make sure you have the latest multitouch beta drivers. Remember these are pre-release drivers and are not supported by Microsoft, Dell or HP. And again, they still need to pass through the Windows Logo process we described above before they are final.
We often get asked about single-touch PCs. Will they work with Windows 7? There are many types of hardware available for touch and many screens and PCs can provide single touch (usually based on resistive touch technology). A single-touch PC will have the same functionality on Windows 7 as it does on Vista, but this functionality will not be extended to the Windows 7 capabilities. As we noted earlier, Windows Touch in Windows 7 is comprised of a collection of touch enhancements, several of which require multitouch, that work together to deliver a great end-to-end touch experience.
As form factors change and the demands of our user interfaces change, input methods change and grow as well. We’re excited about the unique benefits touch offers the user, and the new places and new ways it enables PCs to be used. We expect PCs of all form factors and price points to provide touch support and so it makes sense that these PCs will be able to take advantage of the full range of Windows 7 capabilities.
Windows 7 is designed to provide efficient ways to use multitouch for the most common and important scenarios, while being a natural and intuitive complement to the mouse and keyboard people use today.
Keep in Touch!
- Windows Touch Team
The theme of “choice and control” has been applied in many aspects of how we have designed Windows 7. We’ve certainly received lots of positive feedback about the theme and about the choices we’ve made in the design, and we’ve also received a few suggestions for how we might continue to implement this theme in the future. We’ve received feedback for features that should be even more customizable (such as Explorer or the logon screen) or features that should be added to Windows (such as a PDF format reader, security tools, or disk utilities). And we’ve received feedback that some users might prefer to run Windows without certain features. This post is about a point of choice and control in the Windows 7 control panel called “Windows Features” which is where you can choose to turn various features of Windows on or off. This continues our discussion of changes we have made based on feedback from the Beta as we progress to the Release Candidate. This post is by Jack Mayo who is the group program manager for our Documents and Printing team and also worked on Internet Explorer 8. --Steven
“Turning Windows Features On or Off” has a long history in Windows, going back to the earliest days of the 32-bit code base. We’ve received a lot of suggestions about features that you would like to turn on or off using your own criteria for choice. For Windows 7 we’ve engineered a more significant list of features and worked to balance that list in light of the needs of the broad Windows platform as well. We want to provide choice while also making sure we do not compromise on compatibility by removing APIs provided for developers. We also want to strike the right balance for consumers in providing choice and balancing compatibility with applications and providing a consistent Windows experience.
We know many have specific ideas of what constitutes a “feature” or a “program” in Windows and what constitutes an identifiable “part” of the operating system, and yet we also know different people can have different points of view, often strongly held. Some might take an end-user approach and identify a feature based on a window or start menu shortcut. Some might take an approach based on one perspective of architectural subsystems, such as storage or security. Some might take an approach based on what to some are alternate choices to some similar functionality. All of these are valid in some context, but would not result in consistently identifying “features” considering these varied points of view. As engineers we know that no software system can be decomposed into an arbitrary set of layers or parts and any decomposition is likely to change over time.
We don’t want the discussion about this feature or these choices to digress into a philosophical discussion about the definition of an operating system, which is ultimately a challenging exercise (judging by the revision history on the community page), but we do want to improve a feature centered on helping to meet the feedback expressed by some over the summer when this blog started.
In the Release Candidate for Windows 7 we have extended the control panel called “Windows Features” which is available from the standard “Programs and Features” control panel (we often call this ARP, for the original name of Add/Remove Programs). This location is unchanged from Vista and XP, though the wording has been clarified. In Windows 7 if you bring up the Windows Features control panel by clicking on “Turn Windows Features on or off” (or just typing “Windows features” in the start menu) you will see the following in the Release Candidate (by default the hierarchy is not fully expanded, but in this screen shot I’ve expanded some elements for additional information):
For those familiar with the Vista version or the Beta version of this dialog you will notice the list has grown. Let’s talk about what we’ve added and briefly how it works.
If a feature is deselected, it is not available for use. This means the files (binaries and data) are not loaded by the operating system (for security-conscious customers) and not available to users on the computer. These same files are staged so that the features can easily be added back to the running OS without additional media. This staging is important feedback we have received from customers who definitely do not like to dig up the installation DVD.
For any of the features listed you can change the state to enable it or disable it. The Vista and Windows 7 beta control panel lists a wide range of features. Some are targeted towards Developers working on a client workstation (IIS, MSMQ, etc.), others are utilities for network administrators and enthusiasts (RSM, SNMP, Telnet, etc.), and some are features customers have asked us to make optional (Games, Fax and Scan, Tablet PC components).
In Windows 7 we are expanding the number of features you have control over in this regard, giving customers more control, flexibility and choice in managing the features available in this version of Windows. In addition to the features that were already available to turn on or off in Windows Vista, we’ve added the following features to the list in Windows 7:
It is worth describing the details of “remove” since this too is a place where there are engineering and customer decisions to be made. We’ve already seen one decision which is to make sure we keep the features staged for future use so that a DVD is not required. A second decision is that we also continue to support the APIs available for features where these APIs are necessary to the functionality of Windows or where there are APIs that are used by developers that can be viewed as independent of the component. As many of you know these are often referred to as “dependencies” and with Windows the dependencies can run both internal to Windows and external for ISVs.
It should be no surprise, but when we develop new features in Windows we tend to use the underlying infrastructure and associated APIs rather than duplicate code which would create extra working set, slow performance, and increase the surface area that needs to be secured, etc. We all know code reuse is a good engineering practice. As a platform, Windows tends to emphasize the creation of APIs for many systems, even when those subsystems are viewed as part of a larger system. When we have APIs that are used, we faced the choice of breaking software that just expected those APIs to be there or to continue to support the API. When we continued to support the API our approach was to remove a feature by making sure that an end-user could not invoke the feature via traditional end-user mechanisms. These are often difficult decisions as we work to balance the expectations of developers, the shared desire to deliver a robust release of Windows 7, and to maintain the goals set out by the feature “Turn Windows Features On or Off”. Because there are so many combinations of dependencies just represented in this list, selecting some options might provide you with some explanation as to the challenges in selecting a combination (for example Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center share a lot of code so turning one off might introduce a pretty complex situation for the average end-user).
Finally, we know some have suggested that this set of choices be a “setup option”. Some operating systems do provide this type of setup experience. As we balanced feedback, the vast majority of feedback we have received was to streamline setup and to reduce the amount of potential complexity in getting a PC running. We chose to focus this feature on the post-setup experience for Windows 7.
Like many places we’ve spent the past few weeks under quite a bit of snow, which is pretty unusual for Seattle! Most of us on the team took advantage of the snow time to install test builds of Windows 7 on our home machines as we finalize the beta for early 2009—I know I felt like I installed it on 7000 different machines. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing folks kick the tires on the beta when it is available. For more information on the beta, please stay tuned to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7 which is where we will post information about participation.
This post is about a Windows 7 feature that covers a lot of territory—it is about networking, user interface, sharing, media, printing, storage, search, and more. HomeGroup is a way of bringing all these features together in a way that makes it possible for a new level of coolness in a home with multiple PCs running Windows 7. A lot of us are the sysadmins for our own homes and for many others (friends and family). We set up network topologies, configure machines, and set things up so they work—HomeGroup is designed to make that easier so it can be done without a volunteer sysadmin. It makes for some challenges in how to describe the feature since the lack of such a feature has each of us creating our own private best practices or our own techniques for creating and maintaining a home network. HomeGroup is about making this easier (or possible for everyone else) and at the same time giving you the tools to customize and manage—and no matter what, under the hood the file and printer sharing, media sharing, and networking you are already familiar with is there should you wish to stick with the familiar ways. HomeGroup is a deep feature that builds on a lot of new infrastructure/plumbing new to Windows 7, though in this post we’ll talk about it from the experience of setting up a network.
This is a feature that is one you should just use and see it working, rather than trying to read about it as it covers so much territory in writing.
This post is by Jerry Koh a lead program manager in the Core User Experience team, with help from a number of folks across the dev team. --Steven
PS: From all of us on the Windows team, we wish you a very Happy New Year!
You probably have seen or heard about HomeGroup by now. We demonstrated it at PDC this year during Steven’s keynote, it was mentioned a few times at WinHec, and some of you may have even tried it on your PCs with the PDC pre-beta build of Windows 7. HomeGroup represents a new end-to-end approach to sharing in the home, an area in which Windows has provided many features before --- the intuitive end to end is what’s new. HomeGroup recognizes and groups your Windows 7 PCs in a “simple to set up” secure group that enables open access to media and digital memories in your home. With HomeGroup, you can share files in the home, stream music to your XBOX 360 or other devices, and print to the home printer without worrying about technical setup or even understanding how it all works.
This blog post is designed to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how we designed HomeGroup.
The HomeGroup design goal, like other Windows 7 features, is informed by customer data and input. Whether from the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP), the Windows Feedback Panel, focus groups or usability sessions, the data we collect enables us to focus on key areas where people feel the most pain. To begin figuring out how to solve file and printer sharing problems in the home, we started by looking at how people interact within a home environment. We wanted to learn not only how people used computers in the home, but also what social and behavioral norms were acceptable to see if there were parallels that we could bring into our design. We found the following:
The social model of the home also reflected how people want to share. When we discussed file and printer sharing in the home (or the concept of doing so), we found that people classify their content generally into four different buckets: private, public, parentally sensitive, and children’s stuff. Private content consists of business and financial data and is considered private mainly because people fear it will be accidentally deleted as the number of people who have access to it increases.
People are typically quick to point out that they don’t have entertainment content they consider private, and they’re very open to free access to this content within the family. Families with children are often concerned about parentally sensitive content (inappropriate music, videos, etc.). With digital cameras and camcorders dropping in price and being widely adopted, parents are primarily concerned about accidental deletion or loss of original copies of digital memories.
These observations were very interesting to us; a model that mirrored real-world expectations for sharing could be more natural to people than something that layered different questions around security, permissions or rights. So we approached the HomeGroup sharing model with the concept of open access in the home. But, how can we define what the “home” really is? What assumptions can we make about security?
One of the key advances we’ve had in home networking technology has been wireless. Standards like 802.11 have taken the home network by storm. Wireless router sales to consumers are higher than ever, and are projected to continue growing. As a wider segment of people buy wireless routers, concerns about security start to build up. When configured incorrectly, wireless networks can leave your entire home network vulnerable to malicious people or nosy neighbors. While there have been efforts to help people become more aware of securing wireless networks -- such as the “Windows Rally program” and various “Windows Connect Now” technologies--the general public still lags behind in setting up security for their wireless networks. We know from our customer data that more than half of all wireless networks, whether by choice or oversight are set up as unsecured and we know many of you are the first line of defense in helping your friends and families set up a secure home network. While trends all point to more awareness and improvement in the future, it isn’t clear whether we would ever reach 100% security on these networks. So how can we make sure home networks are secured?
Another interesting factor is the usage of passwords on user accounts in the home. While people are more sensitive to security than ever before, we also observed that many don’t want to set up passwords for their Windows user accounts. They feel that it is a barrier to their use of the computer and yet another thing for them to remember or lose (as an aside, passwords are often viewed as a performance bottleneck in the home). From the data we obtained from the Windows Feedback Panel, a majority of users actually don’t use passwords in the home, opting for the simple model of opening the laptop lid and using Windows quickly. This parallels usage patterns on cell phones, where setting passwords on them would just be a deal-breaker for most people.
A majority of the computers in our panel only had one primary user. While we all know that laptop sales have overtaken desktop sales in the last couple of years, this data tells us that people are buying PCs more for specific people rather than for a shared location. With laptops, the mobility factor has contributed to the “one person/one computer” landscape, again mirroring cell phone ownership patterns in which users almost never share a personal cell phone. Clearly as notebook options include even less expensive options, this will only increase, though we recognize it is still rather a luxury in most of the world.
So we wanted to find a model that could secure home sharing for people who don’t use passwords and could also take into account the more personal nature of PC usage.
First we needed to figure out that people were “at home”. Luckily we didn’t need to look very far for some useful technology in this area. Windows Vista introduced a concept known as network location awareness (NLA). This enables the system to recognize when you’ve changed network locations, and it tags the location with a simple “Home”, “Work” or “Public” designation. While it was somewhat of a mystery in Vista in terms of what such a designation did (unless you read all the words), we will see the infrastructure has become increasingly important as we built out the HomeGroup scenario. In addition to ensuring the right firewall settings are configured for these locations, NLA also enabled us to be smarter about starting Windows services that are targeted at specific network locations. For example, the network discovery service does not start if you’re in a public location. However, Windows Vista didn’t have much distinction between the “work” and “home” network locations; they were essentially the same in terms of which firewall ports were opened and which Windows services were started.
In Windows 7, we extended the concept of NLA and made “work” and “home” more distinct. In Windows 7, when you select the “home” network profile, we know that you are “at home”, and will start the essential services required for successful file and printer sharing in the home. This provides an intuitive entry point into HomeGroup, and once you are “at home” we start looking for (via network discovery) other Win7 PCs in the home. If you already have a HomeGroup active, we offer you the ability to join it; if not, you can create one.
Now that we know your PC is at home, we need to make sure that your data is secured from prying eyes. While wireless security is full of acronyms and technical solutions to security (WEP, WPA, TKIP, etc., to name a few), the fundamental model of wireless security is fairly simple for people to understand. The use of a physical key (copied several times) to enter one’s home is mirrored by the concept of typing in a shared key to gain access to the home wireless network. In the HomeGroup case, Windows will provide you with a pre-generated password out of the box, which you would hand over to any member of the home, and they could then join the group.
While a password is provided by default, people can, at any time, visit HomeGroup in Control Panel to change their password to something they prefer. This flexible system performed very well in testing. When faced with the default password, people wrote it down, and shared it with others to set up the HomeGroup. You may ask, why don’t we enable people to set their own passwords by default? The answer is actually quite ironic, since that was our initial design. In testing, this concept raised quite a bit of alarm with people. It seems that most people generally have 1 or 2 passwords that they use for all their online or offline activities. When asked to input a user password for their HomeGroup, they gravitated towards using one of those, and then reacted with alarm when they realized that this password needs to be shared with other users in the home! People generally reacted better to the auto-generated password, since they knew to write it down and hand it around. The other interesting benefit we got from this was a reduction in the amount of time people would spend on the UI that introduced them to the HomeGroup concept. With a user-generated password, they had to grasp the HomeGroup concept, think about what password to set, and decide whether to accept the shared libraries default. Without having to provide a password, people had more time to understand HomeGroup, and their sharing decision – leading to a much more streamlined, private, and secure design.
In addition to balancing security with ease of use, we also wanted to account for PCs becoming more personal. For this reason, we adopted the concept that each person in the HomeGroup is a peer of the others. Each person can thus join and leave the HomeGroup as they wish. Each person brings with them their choice of media/memories or files to share with the rest of the home. With a system based on equals and peers, the big benefit is a lack of management overhead; you don’t need one person to bear the management task of maintaining the group and dealing with membership tasks. This eliminates a primary source of complexity. All you need to gain entry is the shared password (just like the house key that each family member has).
With a home full of equals, what would they share? As mentioned above, our customers indicated a desire to share media, both music and photos, they want to quickly and easily access within the home. So that is exactly what we implemented. HomeGroup will enable sharing the pictures, music, and video libraries from your Windows 7 PC by default. Another blog post will go into more detail on how libraries work, but in a nutshell, they provide Windows with a way to aggregate multiple physical locations on a computer into one unified view. This is a very powerful addition to the way you organize your data in Windows. Your Pictures library can now contain your <username>\pictures folder, the Public\pictures folder, as well as the f:\foo folder that contains other pictures (and perhaps is on a USB external hard drive). Viewing your picture library locally gives you a unified view of all the pictures in these locations and enables you to search, sort, and organize them in the same way you would within a folder, while also making sure you save new items to the right place physically.
In addition to media, some people might want to share their documents. We enable you to do this when you create or join a HomeGroup. This is great for people who want to collaborate with their family or in families where open access to documents is not a concern. The content is shared as “read-only” and can be selectively changed in Windows Explorer. We want the system to work the way you expect it to, with enough flexibility to do whatever you want later.
Now that we have made it easy to set up, the next step is to make it easy to use. There were two aspects here that we want to emphasize for this post:
In Windows Vista, this discovery was done through the network folder, which provides a complete, but highly technical, view of the resources available to you on the network. In addition, the network folder also contains other devices and additional media libraries that were shared on the network. This was confusing and difficult to understand for typical people. For example, if you shared your Pictures folder, it was actually found under the computer in \\<computername>\users\<username>\pictures. Typically, people would not know to look into that path for the correct folder.
The concept of “libraries” introduced in Windows 7 gives us the design point to improve access their content across the network. While libraries aggregated the view on a local computer, if these locations were shared out to the network, they resulted in a more complicated view in the network folder for our users. Each location would be shared as a separate path, so taking the example above, sharing out the Pictures library means that you’ll see three shares under \\computername, Users\<username>\pictures, Users\public\pictures and foo. People would not benefit from the power of libraries on a network. Therefore, we use the concept of libraries to work well even across a home network. We did this in two ways.
First, people should have the same experience viewing a library whether on a local computer or across the network in a HomeGroup. We made sure that when you share the Pictures library in Windows 7, not only are all locations of the library shared, but the library resource is also shared and can be consumed by other computers in the HomeGroup. Effectively, members in a HomeGroup would see just one unified library with its aggregated views.
Second, we found that accessing these resources in the network folder was too many clicks away and sufficiently buried such that people would find it impossible to discover. So we created a new HomeGroup node on the navigation pane in Windows Explorer. When you join a HomeGroup, other HomeGroup Win7 PCs will appear under the HomeGroup node in the Windows Explorer navigation pane. They’re one click away and always at your fingertips. In our tests, this really opened up discovery and usage of content throughout the HomeGroup. People easily discovered music on another computer, played it back, or looked at photos. Consumption of media thus becomes something easy and habit-forming in the home, all by joining a HomeGroup.
With the introduction of libraries, we also had an opportunity to remove some of the confusion between specialized media libraries that are created by Windows Media Player (WMP) or Windows Media Center (WMC). In previous versions of Windows, WMP would scan the entire hard drive on the computer to find media files and add them into a media library, but in Windows 7 this no longer has to happen. Since you already have Windows Explorer libraries, WMP and MCE just use those. If you add new locations to the libraries in Windows Explorer, WMP and MCE now automatically just pick them up since they are using the same common library for the content. We thus eliminated the need for people to manage multiple views of their data using different user experiences. In addition, WMP will also show the media libraries shared by the HomeGroup as nodes in the WMP navigation pane, mirroring the discovery and access model of Windows Explorer. So the same set of HomeGroup users you see in Explorer by default will also be shown to you in WMP as well.
Similar to WMP, in WMC, there is a new “shared” section when browsing media like recorded TV, pictures, music and video. HomeGroup computers show up in this section and can be accessed easily. The content of those libraries that have been shared with the HomeGroup will show up and be accessible in WMC. This includes music, pictures and videos, but also recorded TV--which means that you can now browse and stream non-DRM TV (that was recorded on another computer in your home) from your laptop!
In addition to sharing out your media by default, we also wanted to make sharing additional content to the HomeGroup simple. In the past you had to worry about setting access control, as well as managing user passwords to make sharing work in the home. As we better understood how people interacted and worked at home, we realized that most were OK with enabling general access to all members of the household. So we built a few shortcuts into the sharing experience to enable this. Windows Explorer now features a new “share with” menu in the command bar:
This enables you to select a library or folder and quickly share it with the home. It even enables you to make content writable by home members with one click, thus making it easy for people at home to easily collaborate on pictures or documents. This enables scenarios like importing digital photographs on one computer and editing them on another computer without making a copy. Once you share a folder with the home, it also shows up under the user in the HomeGroup node. This makes it incredibly easy to share anything on your computer to others in the home, and have them easily find and use them. We also recognize that some people need a way to easily bring some of this content off the network quickly and easily and make it private. The “share with” menu includes a shortcut to “share with nobody.” This option removes access to any content that has been previously shared and makes it private, thus enabling us to deliver on another requirement we observed people have in the home.
So what about devices? We’ve heard from you that sharing printers needs to be much simpler. While we have made it super easy to add printers to Windows, we needed to bring this simplicity to the home network. USB printers are still tied to a specific PC and can’t be shared out very easily. People typically email files to themselves to retrieve on another computer, or use USB keys to move their files to the computer with the printer. That had to change.
In a HomeGroup , if you have installed a USB printer that has a Windows logo, the other people on the HomeGroup would get this printer automatically installed on their computers. They won’t see a prompt, they won’t need to answer any questions – it would just show up, and “just work.” For non-Windows logoed printers, we need to ask the user for permission to install the printer. HomeGroup members will see a prompt that a printer has been found in the HomeGroup. Clicking on this prompt installs the driver. The reason we had to do this was to ensure that users consent to 3rd party code that hasn’t been through the rigors of the logo program. One of the big benefits of this system is that you no longer need to find, download, and install the driver manually on multiple computers. The driver (for the correct architecture) is just copied from the computer that has the physical printer attached. This saves time and network bandwidth. With a HomeGroup, there will no longer be a need to think about sharing a printer. If you attach one to a computer in the HomeGroup, everyone else will get it installed and ready to use.
In addition to printers, devices like photo frames, game consoles (such as the Xbox 360), and media receivers (like the Roku Soundbridge) can benefit from some of the easy setup, as well as all the shared media in the home. For setup, we have reduced all the UI within Windows that deals with these devices to one simple checkbox:
Once you are part of a HomeGroup, we turn on Windows Media Player streaming support, so not only will your computer detect other WMP libraries on the network and allow playback from them, devices would also be able to consume the shared media content. Another blog post will go into more detail on an exciting new feature called “play to” which would also be automatically enabled in a HomeGroup enabling you to send media from your PC to any supported picture frame or media receiver, and never have to deal with the minimal UI you have on these devices, which you can see in the demonstration of the Day 1 keynote at WinHEC. If you check a box in HomeGroup in Control Panel, all existing and future devices in the home will detect and consume the media on the HomeGroup computer. All these previously complicated settings are now simplified with HomeGroup.
The laptop buying trend doesn’t stop at home. Large corporations are also moving toward buying laptops for their employees. There is research out there that outlines productivity improvements with employees using laptops. This makes sense as most of these laptop-wielding employees bring their computers home and put in those extra email hours. However, most corporations require that their laptops be joined to a corporate domain. This enables system administrators to manage and maintain these computers. Domain-joined laptops are thus subject to more restrictions than regular home computers are. It’s hard to even locate another PC on the home network to access or share files, let along configure your domain-joined computer to print to a printer at home.
With HomeGroup, we wanted see if we could make things a little easier for these computers to come home. With more and more people working from home or having the option to these days, we wanted to see if they could enjoy some of the media content they have on the other PCs in the HomeGroup while they work. So in Windows 7, your domain-joined computer can join and participate in a HomeGroup. This enables the domain-joined computer to consume the media available on Windows 7 PCs in the home, watch TV through WMC, listen to music via WMP, or print to the printer on another HomeGroup PC all by entering the same key you provide to other computers in the HomeGroup.
The only difference is that sensitive content on the corporate laptop is never shared to the other HomeGroup computers. In essence, the domain-joined computer can see out (and consume) but no one can see in. We believe this meets the need for corporations to maintain security over documents while enabling our customers to enjoy a fun and interesting work environment at home, with access to all their media and home printers while they work. All you need is an existing HomeGroup, a domain-joined computer, and you can be rocking to your favorite tunes on your home network, while you catch up on all your important work.
Of course the ability to join a HomeGroup is a policy that can be managed by corporate domains as you would expect.
Phew! I hope this post has given you some insight into some of our design decisions, as well as the capabilities of the feature. HomeGroup will highlight some of the cool capabilities Windows has had for a long time in a friendly and easy fashion and also build on some of the new plumbing and infrastructure in Windows 7, and we are very excited with its possibilities. It is important to note that none of this would be possible without the help of people around the world who have provided us with opportunities to listen to their feedback, observe their actions, and take note of their needs.
We know there will be lots of discussion around this feature once folks have had a chance to explore it. It represents a new model for something that has arguably been very difficult to set up and so for most people seeing all this work will be a first and for many of us reading this blog we’ll be “mapping” our existing model to this new experience. The best thing to do is just see if you can let Windows 7 run and do the work. After some use you can then dive into the customization and configuration available to you.
To set up a HomeGroup you will need to install Windows 7 Beta on more than one PC on the same network and be sure to select Home as the network location if you want to automatically create (or join) a HomeGroup.
One of the areas of any release of Windows that receives a significant amount of testing and scrutiny is the performance of graphics—desktop graphics all the way to the most extreme CAD and game graphics. The amazing breadth of hardware supported for Windows and the broad spectrum of usage scenarios contributes to a vibrant ecosystem with many different goals—from just the basics to the highest frame rates on multiple monitors possible. In engineering Windows 7 we set out to improve the “real world” performance of graphics as well as continue to improve the most extreme elements of graphics. This is work we do in Windows 7 and work our partners do as they work to improve the underlying hardware/software combination through drivers (note: Windows Vista drivers continue to work as they did in Windows Vista, but we've also been working with partners on updated drivers for Windows 7 which many of you have been testing through Windows Update downloads). This post looks at this spectrum of engineering as well as the different ways performance is measured. Ultimately we want to inform you about what we have done in engineering Windows 7, while we leave room for the many forums that will compare and contrast Windows 7 on different hardware and in different scenarios. This post is written by Ameet Chitre, a program manager on our Desktop Graphics feature team. --Steven
If you have gone online to check out or purchase a new PC, you must have noticed that “faster graphics” and “great performance” are always some of the key selling points. People have come to expect faster systems which enable them to edit photos, do email, watch high-definition videos and play the latest 3D games all with greater ease, often shuffling between these tasks seamlessly. Quite a few of these users refer to the enthusiast community blogs and various review sites which run graphics benchmarks and report results evaluating how fast the graphics of new hardware or software performs. Traditionally graphics performance has been measured and analyzed through 3D games but it also impacts what we call “desktop scenarios” - such as when you are using the Windows UI, moving or maximizing windows, or scrolling within Word or IE etc. The performance requirements for these desktop scenarios are quite different from3D games. In fact, this is the reason in Windows Vista Experience Index (WinEI) we give you rating for these two scenarios separately, highlighted in the image below:
Figure 1. WEI sample with Graphics capabilities highlighted.
Graphics performance is usually assessed through many benchmarks. These can be classified into 2 broad categories:
However, there are plenty of things that we all do on our PCs that don’t have benchmarks tracking them that are still quite critical to make fast. In these cases we use the instrumentation within Windows to obtain timing information and then analyze the performance.
This blog entry discusses various aspects of graphics performance - both gaming and desktop graphics performance. It calls out the changes we made in Windows 7 to address user feedback as well as to take advantage of modern hardware to improve graphics performance.
Many have experienced scenarios where an application, or Windows itself, stops responding momentarily. This is type of a performance issue that can be impacted significantly by the performance of graphics in the PC. We categorize these as desktop responsiveness issues. Improving responsiveness, both in real terms and by avoiding non-responsive moments, is one of the key ways that performance is improved in the system. It is also hard to measure.
Measuring desktop responsiveness is a hard problem since a number of issues which affect responsiveness aren’t easily reproducible and there is a great variety of them. They are rarely caught by either kind of benchmark as these issues are dependent on real-world combinations of factors. For Windows 7 we spent a great deal of time looking at these performance glitches using a mechanism in test versions of Windows 7 which has the ability to record key OS events and when they occurred. During real-world testing when we encounter a responsiveness problem, the tester can hit a record key and enter a small description of the issue encountered. The event history with diagnostic information called a “performance trace” is written out to a file and uploaded to a server where a team of performance analysts parse the data to figure out the cause of the responsiveness issue. This process has been successful to the extent that today most responsiveness issues can be quickly tracked down and root-caused.
Using this methodology, we analyzed thousands of desktop responsiveness traces where the tester experienced a frozen desktop anywhere from 100msec to several seconds. The type of issues ranged from an antivirus blocking disk access for all applications while updating itself on the vendor’s website to an application doing network access from a UI thread. In a significant portion of these traces, we found that a GDI application is waiting on another GDI application which is experiencing slowdowns due to excessive paging activity. This was the single-most frequently occurring cause of all desktop responsiveness issues, which without this data we probably would not have assumed. Based on these investigations, we worked to improve the architecture in these two key areas:
These are described in more detail below.
A number of performance traces we investigated in the context of desktop responsiveness pointed us to the design of a key synchronization mechanism in GDI. The performance challenge happens because the design of GDI in Windows Vista allows only a single application to hold a system-wide exclusive global lock. While this seems obvious in hindsight, when this decision was originally made the performance characteristics of different parts of the system made this optimistic implementation perfectly reasonable.
Figure 2. Existing architecture of GDI concurrency.
GDI applications running simultaneously vie for this global lock in order to render on the screen. The application that accesses the global lock prevents other applications from rendering till it releases the global lock. The situation often gets exacerbated when the application that is holding the lock needs to page in a large amount of memory from the disk since moving the memory from the disk to RAM takes a relatively long time. The above picture shows two GDI applications running simultaneously, contending for the global lock. If App X gets hold of the lock, it can render to the screen while App Y is unable to do so and waits for App X to finish.
Figure 3. Windows 7 architecture of GDI concurrency.
The solution to the problem was therefore to reduce the lock contention and improve concurrency by re-architecting the internal synchronization mechanism through which multiple applications can reliably render at the same time. Contention due to the global exclusive lock is avoided by implementing a number of fine-grained locks which are not exclusive but aid parallelism. The increased number of fine-grained locks adds a small overhead for scenarios where only a single application is rendering at a time.
Special attention was paid to GDI application compatibility as changing internal synchronization mechanism in the most widely used API stack could potentially give rise to timing issues such as deadlocks and rendering corruption.
This work also resulted in better rendering performance of concurrent GDI applications on multi-core CPUs. Multi-core Windows PCs benefit from these changes as more than one application can now be rendering at the same time.
After the GDI concurrency work was implemented in the Windows 7 builds leading to the Beta, we saw a large reduction in the number of desktop responsiveness issues reported by our testers which were caused by one application blocking another one due to GDI. To further validate the scalability of our new implementation, we wrote tests that draw 2D GDI primitives and measured the rendering throughput by launching simultaneously multiple such applications. The throughput is measured by adding together the frame rate (FPS) of each application window. Below is a sample of these results on a quad-core CPU system.
Figure 4. GDI Concurrency and Scalability.
Without the Windows 7 GDI concurrency, the rendering throughput of these applications is effectively limited to the performance of a single CPU core. Since only a single application can acquire the global exclusive lock while the others are waiting, this scenario doesn’t benefit from multiple CPU cores. This demonstrates that GDI applications in Windows 7 are now much less dependent on one another. This benefit will not need any new display drivers; it will work on any Vista (WDDM 1.0) and newer display drivers.
Another area which affects system responsiveness is memory usage. Simply put, increased system memory (RAM) usage leads to an increased paging activity which directly leads to reduced system responsiveness. Thus, for the best responsiveness, all applications, processes and OS components need to use as little system memory as possible.
In Windows Vista, the amount of memory required to run multiple windows scales linearly with the number of windows opened on the system. This results in more memory pressure when there are more windows or if the monitors have higher resolution. It gets worse if you have more than one monitor. As part of investigating various means to improve system responsiveness, we saw a great opportunity in reducing the usage of system memory by DWM. In Windows Vista, every GDI application window accounts for two memory allocations which hold identical content – one in video memory and one in system memory. DWM is responsible for composition of the desktop through the graphics hardware. Hence, it requires a copy of the same allocation in video memory, which is easily accessible by the graphics hardware. The duplicate copy present in system memory is required because GDI is being rendered utilizing the CPU completely in the operating system without any assistance or “acceleration” by the graphics hardware. As the CPU performs all the tasks for rendering GDI applications, it requires an easily accessible cacheable copy of memory.
Figure 5. Existing memory allocations.
Windows 7 saves one copy of the memory allocation per application window by getting rid of the system memory copy entirely. Thus, for a GDI application window visible on the desktop, the memory consumed is cut in half.
Figure 6. Windows 7 memory allocations.
We achieved the reduction in system memory by accelerating the common GDI operations through the graphics hardware - the WDDM drivers accelerate these to minimize the performance impact of the CPU read-back of video memory. This was necessary as performing these operations otherwise on the CPU would incur a heavy performance penalty. In order to decide which GDI operations to accelerate, it was important to understand the usage pattern of various GDI applications. We profiled the top 100 GDI applications to learn more about their calling patterns and frequency and nature of the GDI operations.
Figure 7. Calling patterns and frequency of GDI operations for 100 GDI-based applications.
Based on real-world application statistics, a tiny snapshot of which is seen above, we worked with our graphics IHV partners to provide support in their drivers to accelerate the most commonly used GDI operations. Windows 7 systems with these updated drivers, called “WDDM v1.1” will thus benefit from this memory savings work. Please note that WDDM 1.0 drivers continue to function and are fully supported on Windows 7. You might have seen Windows Update providing these 1.1 drivers during the Beta—these drivers are themselves in Beta.
Figure 8. Desktop Window manager memory consumption comparison using WDDM 1.1 v. WDDM 1.0.
The above data shows that the memory savings become more and more pronounced when you have multiple application windows visible on the desktop. Since you save a lot of system memory, the paging activity gets reduced – as a result, your system responsiveness improves for the same workload.
Certain trade-offs had to be made for the desktop responsiveness improvements which benefit a wide range of systems. For example – the elimination of the duplicate system memory copies which “speed up” certain operations introduced slightly reduced performance as the CPU now has to read data back from the video memory. An analysis of real-world application statistics showed that these operations were rare. However, certain GDI micro-benchmarks which issue these operations show some performance degradation. This is something to note if you are running existing benchmarks that stress specific GDI operations repeatedly, which isn’t necessarily a reflection of real-world performance. Our observation has been that these slow-downs do not impact the end-user functionality directly and that the memory savings directly result in Windows 7 being much responsive overall. The improvements overall are definitely noticeable on memory constrained PCs with shared memory graphics.
No article on graphics performance is complete without talking about gaming, which is still the most widely analyzed and discussed aspect of graphics performance. There are a number of popular benchmarks such as 3D Mark as well as in-game benchmarks which are really a mode in which you can run your game where it renders the game scenes and animations without any user interaction. This area has thus been well tracked by the gaming industry through various industry benchmarks, which are pretty realistic and representative of actual games. The different benchmarks and tests are widely discussed and gamers all well-versed in the subtleties of these measurements and translating them into recommendations depending on their hardware, drivers, and gaming expectations.
For Windows 7, we have worked closely with our Graphics IHV partners, helping them improve the WDDM drivers’ gaming performance with specific changes to how Windows 7 works under the hood, while maintaining the same driver model and compatibility. Our continued investments in performance tools has helped us and our IHV partners track down and analyze various gaming performance bottlenecks and fix them in subsequent driver releases. The fundamentals of the Windows Display Driver Model remain unchanged in Windows 7. Some policies around GPU scheduling and memory management were changed to enable better performance in certain scenarios.
Because these benchmarks are very sensitive to the specific hardware, firmware, drivers, and overall system and because these are so widely measured and discussed elsewhere we are going to leave these comparisons to third parties. Like many areas in Windows 7, our commitment is to engineer even better performance across many dimensions. We believe it is better for you to experience these efforts directly. In comparing Windows 7, we would encourage the comparison using Windows Vista SP1 and keep in mind the difference you might see in WDDM 1.0 v. 1.1 and that the 1.1 drivers are still under development.
As you can see, in engineering Windows 7 we have worked hard to improve the architecture for graphics for real-world performance. It benefits both ends of the hardware spectrum – by enabling low physical memory systems to run a leaner and faster Windows and at the same time enabling multi-core PCs render multiple graphics applications much more efficiently.
One of the many passions held by Bill Gates is a passion for reading and so his desire to make reading on PCs a fantastic experience has been an effort ongoing for many years. In the 1998 COMDEX show, Bill Gates unveiled ClearType – hard to believe it was that long ago. Back when it was announced, very few of us had LCD monitors and those that did invested several thousand dollars in one that was 15” and 1024x768 (today one like that costs less than $100). The notions of smoothing and anti-aliasing have been around for many years and are common in the world of typography, animation, and games. ClearType took this to new levels by building on the properties of LCD panels. ClearType was subsequently included in Windows XP and continues in Vista and Windows 7—each release saw changes in the underlying technology, the fonts that support the technology, and the APIs available to developers. It is fair to say that over the years we have learned that there are a set of customers who simply find ClearType rendered screens less than appealing and wish to turn it off. We recognize this and want to make sure we provide the appropriate controls. ClearType is also part of the Windows platform and provides APIs callable and controllable by developers of applications. There is a conventional view that ClearType is a "visual preference" and through this post we want to show how there are elements that are such a preference but there are also elements that are APIs used by applications, just like applications can choose fonts, colors, and other attributes as required. This post goes into the details of Windows 7’s implementation along with some history and background. Greg Hitchcock is the development lead on ClearType and has worked on it since the start. He’s also one of the most tenured members of the Windows 7 engineering team with only 6 folks having been at Microsoft longer -- Larry is one of them :-)!
Based on feedback, we want to clarify how font rendering works in Windows 7 and give some background on how we chose ClearType font rendering to be the default in Windows. For those that dislike ClearType and want to change the system default setting to bi-level rendering, as were defaults in Windows Millennium, the quick answer is:
The longer answer, as we will describe in this post, shows that changing the default setting is not as “black and white” as it may seem. As you have noticed, Windows 7 also includes a new ClearType tuner in the control panel which affords fine-grained control over rendering—we’ll talk about that some below as well.
ClearType is a technology developed to improve both the appearance of font rendering and reading performance on computer displays. As most people spend over 80% of their time on computers reading on the screen, improvements in this area greatly improve the overall experience of Windows. The ClearType technology has continued to evolve and the latest improvements have been made in Windows 7, as discussed in this earlier E7 post.
In simple terms, ClearType works by using the underlying geometry of colored sub-pixels in the display as if they were full pixels—gaining extra resolution while at the same time using principles of human vision to remove the perception of color artifacts. Further details on the technology and how it uses human visual perception are described here. More specifically, the ClearType technology is optimized for LCD panels with red, green, and blue (RGB) striped sub-pixels that are oriented vertically, although it performs reasonably well on CRT displays (especially those that are aperture grille based) and even LCD panels with horizontally oriented RGB stripes. Although this might seem counterintuitive, through informal studies, we’ve found that about 70% of users prefer ClearType even on these non-optimal displays. Of the 30% who preferred other rendering techniques, their biggest concern with ClearType in these non-optimal cases was the loss of text contrast.
Given the complex world of many display types and a wide variety of users and their visual systems, how did we go about implementing ClearType into Microsoft Windows? Microsoft did not rush headlong into making ClearType the default rendering. The technology was first released in 2000 with the Windows CE product. The Windows CE environment is usually quite controlled in terms of the hardware used, so it was quite easy to verify that ClearType worked properly on each device, and either tune ClearType or adjust the hardware to optimize the onscreen reading experience. The first release of ClearType on the Windows platform was with Windows XP in 2001.
Example of Bi-Level rendering. Note if your browser scales this image the text will not be correctly represented.
Example of Bi-Level rendering. Note if your browser scales this image the text will not be correctly represented.
Prior to Windows XP, two types of font rendering were supported in Windows. The first type of font rendering supported was bi-level rendering, more commonly referred to as “black and white” rendering, but sometimes also called aliased text. With bi-level rendering, two colors represent the font, the foreground color and the background color. This was the first type of rendering supported by TrueType when Windows 3.1 was released, and also the essential method of displaying fonts in bitmap form from Windows 1.0. Bi-level rendering, especially when generated from outline technologies like TrueType, is very difficult to optimize for low screen resolutions. Significant effort needs to be put into the font hinting for TrueType in order to get the best bi-level quality. It can reasonably take a skilled person 6 months to a year per font of hinting time to get this level of rendering detail. That would be multiplied by four for a four-member family. If the character sets are larger, as in some system fonts, it can take even longer.
The second form of rendering, known as font smoothing, became the default rendering in Windows 2000 and was first released as an option for Windows 95 in the Plus! Pack. Font smoothing is a hybrid grayscale anti-aliasing technique designed to improve the contrast of fonts over traditional anti-aliasing techniques. There are two factors that differentiate font smoothing from more traditional text anti-aliasing.
First, traditional anti-aliasing works by overscaling the font outline data and then downsampling. Font smoothing uses the same technique, except that it applies font hints prior to overscaling the outline data. Although we don’t have enough space here to fully describe font hinting, I can simplify it enough to say that it often uses a method called “grid fitting” to snap the vertical and horizontal edges of the font outlines so that they are aligned with the pixel grid. In this situation, most horizontal and vertical stems of a font, when overscaled, cover 100% of the underlying pixels, and when downsampled return the text foreground color, which is usually black. Diagonal and round features of the font will not have full coverage of the pixel and thus will return some shade of gray, reflecting the coverage of the underlying pixel. It should be noted that when text displays the “jaggies” (or more formally aliasing) this usually occurs on round or diagonal parts of the glyphs—exactly the areas receiving gray coverage with this method. This way of anti-aliasing is beneficial due to the higher contrast of the stems in the font at a slight cost of some spatial accuracy.
The second differentiating factor is that the fonts determine the exact size that the font smoothing turns on or off. Most fonts that provide this level of information turn on grayscale anti-aliasing below 9 pixels per em (PPEM.) That is the equivalent of 7 points on a 96 PPI screen. Above 9 PPEM, anti-aliasing is turned off until the main stems of the font are around two pixels wide, which is around 13 to 20 points, depending on the typeface. Once the main stems are two pixels wide, anti-aliasing remains on as the sizes increase. Two pixel wide stems are usually chosen because there is usually enough “backbone” of foreground colored pixels to keep the stem contrast high. If the font does not have specific sizes for font smoothing, system defaults are used. There are independent defaults for both regular and bold typefaces. So although font smoothing was the default, most fonts, when displaying text at typical reading sizes, would render them bi-level.
With the addition of ClearType to Windows XP, there were now three types of font rendering available (Bi-level, Font Smoothing, ClearType). During the time period that Windows XP was being developed there was a clear transition underway from desktop systems with CRT monitors to laptops and desktops with LCD displays. Since this transition was far from complete, we felt that the default value for font rendering in Windows XP should be grayscale font smoothing, the same as Windows 2000. OEM’s who provide Windows XP on their systems could change this default, and in fact, by the time Windows XP SP 2 shipped, many of them had set the default to ClearType. It should be noted that OEMs can always change these settings as part of configuring a PC.
In Windows Vista, the system’s default font rendering was changed to ClearType. It is important to clearly understand what is meant by default font rendering. In Windows, the default font rendering is the rendering used when the application does not choose an explicit type of rendering. Some have confused this default value to mean that all applications must use this value. This view is inconsistent with the way text APIs worked when introduced in Windows 95’s font smoothing. In GDI, the API for choosing the current font has the rendering type explicitly as input. It is expected that there are situations where the application knows best what type of rendering should be used. For example, in displaying a print preview page with small text, traditional font smoothing might be the best choice for rendering. Likewise, if an application was targeting on-screen reading, it might be best to use ClearType as the rendering for that application. In some situations, like remote terminal services, the application might choose to use bi-level rendering to reduce the bandwidth of text information that needs to be sent to a remote client.
There are many examples where applications decide one way or another to use rendering other than the system default—just as applications that choose to use different fonts, colors, sizes, or other text attributes. The most typical example is in applications that wish to have reproducible layout and flow of documents. By being specific about which way to render text, the applications can be certain of how text will flow across different PCs. Another common example, as mentioned above, is Print Preview where the ability to properly render representations of higher resolution output, particularly for small text sizes, is much improved. We recognize that for some it is counter-intuitive that an aspect viewed as a “display” property is something that applications can choose to “over-ride”. We’ve designed rendering so that the default case is to respect the setting, but applications, including Windows itself, might have elements that require explicit rendering techniques.
Although each application can make the choice on a per-font basis of which rendering to use, the majority of applications choose the default rendering. Therefore, making the decision to change the default for Windows Vista was not taken lightly. The trends in the hardware displays were strongly showing a rapid movement from CRTs to LCD-based displays as we have shown in earlier blog posts based on the Windows XP and Windows Vista real-world telemetry. Even though there were still CRTs in use, feedback from Windows XP customers was positive on the quality of ClearType rendering on CRTs. After we made the choice, the feedback on the decision to enable ClearType as the default for Windows Vista was overwhelmingly positive.
Even with the default rendering set to ClearType, there are some scenarios that can change the default. If an OEM is providing Windows on their hardware, they can change the default. In some situations, and this was more common with font smoothing in Windows 95, the hardware may not meet the minimum requirements for the rendering technology. In the case of both font smoothing and ClearType, a minimum of sixteen bits per pixel display resolution is required. (When rendering to an off-screen bitmap in GDI, it is important that it not be the default color depth of 1 bit per pixel if you desire to capture ClearType text.) In some cases, when optimizing for system performance, font smoothing (both ClearType and grayscale) can be disabled. In a similar fashion, using Remote Desktop to connect to another computer or session usually disables ClearType by default.
Windows 7 maintains the same defaults as Windows Vista. There are several ways for the user to change the default values for font rendering in Windows 7. For those that want the default rendering to be bi-level, the user interface for this selection is in the performance section of the Control Panel. From the root of the control panel you can access it by selecting System and Security –> System –> Advanced System Settings –> Performance (Settings…). An easier way is to enter “Appearance” into the start menu search, and then select “Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows.” The setting that should be changed under the custom option is: Smooth edges of screen fonts, as shown in the figure.
The option of no font smoothing as the default value is considered to be an uncommon setting, so it is a little more difficult to find than other settings. If the user prefers to change the default font rendering selection to the Windows grayscaling anti-aliasing technique described earlier, in Windows 7 that is now done through the ClearType Tuner.
The quality of the ClearType text can be optimized for you and your monitor. The ClearType Tuner is a new control panel component for Windows 7. Because there are differences in monitor characteristics and differences between readers’ eyes, there are font rendering options that can only be optimized by a reader looking at text on their monitor. The ClearType Tuner uses various samples of ClearType, presented in the form of an eye-test, to make fine grained adjustments to the ClearType algorithms. Each wizard page tunes a parameter such as monitor gamma (relationship between voltage and brightness), your sensitivity to color artifacts, and your preference for letter heaviness.
In order to switch between ClearType and grayscale, the setting “Turn on ClearType” on the opening page of the ClearType Tuner can be toggled.
Either way, the user is taken through the rest of the ClearType Tuning wizard for two reasons; if an application explicitly enables ClearType rendering, it is useful for that experience to be tuned, and some graphics platforms have more fine tuning of the rendering for both gray rendering and ClearType.
The availability of higher resolution font rendering techniques like ClearType has had a significant impact on the design of fonts for onscreen reading. From the early days of the printing press, as new technologies and printing styles were developed, typefaces were redesigned to take advantage of those technologies. For example, many typefaces still in use today incorporate “ink traps” into the design so that ink would not clog up key features of a glyph. This is an aspect of making specific design choices in the font in order to work the best with the technology. In traditional typeface design, the term font refers to a typeface at a given size. So a 10 point Times New Roman would be a different font from a 24 point Times New Roman. In the days of metal cast typography, each of these sizes were designed by a punch cutter to be optimized for the medium for which they were to be used, often with changes in stem contrast, x-height, or character spacing for a given size. The advent of photo typesetting in the mid-twentieth century was a step backwards in this regard, as it used one size as a type master, and then used optics to scale that master size to any other presentation size.
Microsoft Windows has taken the more traditional approach to digital outline fonts, and through a combination of font hinting and new typeface design we attempt to optimize each size for the medium for which they were intended. With Microsoft’s initial release of TrueType for Windows 3.1, the traditional typefaces Times New Roman, Arial, and Courier New were used as core fonts. In the creation of these fonts, one master size was chosen for the outline data, usually something around 10 or 12 point, and, similar to the technique used in photo-typesetting, the outlines could be scaled to any requested size for a given display resolution. But, going back to the more traditional ways, each size was carefully examined and changes were made to the basic design through font hinting—including changes to critical features like stem contrast, x-height, or glyph spacing. As earlier mentioned, hinting fonts to be tuned for a low-resolution medium like full pixels on a 96 PPI screen was very time consuming. To help in this process for Microsoft Windows, we commissioned or designed in-house new outline typefaces designs that were optimized for the world of 96 PPI bi-level rendering. These custom fonts include Tahoma, Verdana, Georgia, Trebuchet MS, and even Comic Sans MS. These fonts still needed to be hinted to tune the individual sizes, but because the typeface was designed with the medium in mind, it was a more straightforward process and less time consuming.
Even with typefaces tuned to the display medium, 96 PPI pixels on a screen are still larger than many of the features we’d like to show in a typeface—and that is where ClearType helps us. Therefore, with ClearType, it made sense to commission a new set of fonts that were optimized for this new medium. Now the existing fonts for Windows still work well with the technology, but this project was an attempt to get the very best design for onscreen reading using ClearType. This led to a new set of fonts that shipped and were tuned for Windows Vista. The ClearType Collection fonts of Calibri, Cambria, Consolas, Corbel, Candara, Constantia, the new user interface font Segoe UI, and the Japanese font Meiryo were designed for this medium. As part of the engineering work on these font projects along with the default setting of ClearType, we decided in the hinting process to do the fine, size-specific hinting only for ClearType, and not for bi-level rendering. This allowed us to focus our efforts on the fine levels of detail and quality for the vast majority of customers.
A reasonable question for us to ask ourselves is what is the experience like in Windows 7 when bi-level or hybrid font smoothing is chosen as the default?
As mentioned earlier, not all applications will choose to render with the default settings. Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer will default in some cases to using ClearType rendering. Some applications that use fonts tuned for ClearType and not bi-level rendering may choose ClearType rendering to maintain the benefits of the font designs. Some applications need higher precision glyph widths like sub-pixel positioning or “natural width ClearType,” and would reflow if they were changed to bi-level or grayscale rendering. Other applications like Adobe Reader have their own built-in text rendering engine that is independent of the Windows graphics platforms. Likewise, platforms like Java on Windows also use their own rendering techniques.
In some situations with the Windows 7 Explorer, ClearType rendering will remain on so that Segoe UI will keep its optimal design. Changing the system font from Segoe UI to some other font could be problematic, leading to issues like reflowing dialog box entries, missing text due to wrapping, unlabeled buttons, etc. We know many would value global changes to the fonts used by Windows, but to maintain to reliably across resolutions, DPI, and languages to name a few issues means we cannot have total flexibility on the system font settings at this time.
Given the challenges of turning off ClearType, there are a few mitigations in the fonts to handle some scenarios where ClearType is not available. In the ClearType font Calibri, since it is the default font for Microsoft Office, an unusual technique was used to attempt to improve the quality of the font rendering when font smoothing grayscale was selected. In this case, as opposed to the normal situation where font smoothing was disabled at lower text sizes to remove the blur, at these lower sizes the font enabled grayscale in order to improve the character shape. Also, at a few key sizes, the Calibri font had some bitmap fonts embedded in the outline file. These bitmaps kick in when bi-level rendering is requested. These bitmaps were intended to handle the case where Calibri was being used in a Remote Terminal situation and the default for Remote Terminal was not set to ClearType for performance reasons.
As mentioned earlier, one of the goals behind ClearType is to improve the performance of reading text on computer screens. We have supported several areas of research looking into measuring this work. The research is done at universities and published in peer-reviewed journals. We have another Microsoft blog, that among other things related to fonts, also describes some of the research work on reading performance. Since those blog entries give more detail and background, we’ll just describe some of the performance highlights.
Another research question we’ve asked ourselves is why do some people prefer bi-level rendering over ClearType? Is it due to hardware issues or is there some other attribute that we don’t understand about visual systems that is playing a role. This is an issue that has piqued our curiosity for some time. Our first attempt at looking further into this involved doing an informal and small-scale preference study in a community center near Microsoft. This was done with two identical laptops, one with ClearType and one with bi-level rendering. They were placed side by side and participants were asked which version they preferred. This was done with three different samples. Here were the results:
Two other additional preference tests were performed with 28 of 30 participants preferring ClearType to bi-level rendering in one study and another with 52 of 55 participants preferring ClearType. Combining these three tests, we get 113 of 120 participants preferring ClearType rendering over bi-level rendering. It is important to note that in a forced preference test like this, just because someone preferred ClearType, it does not mean that they also don’t like bi-level rendering. It is just a preference towards ClearType.
Further examination of those who prefer bi-level rendering is of great interest to us and we continue to research this topic and to work with university researchers as well. We expect to see published papers on this topic in the future.
Going forward, much of our research is in finding ways to make the highest quality text rendering more accessible to everyone. Each visual system has its own characteristics, and just as the ClearType tuner allows us to tune the algorithm for display characteristics, it would also be nice to tune for visual system characteristics. For example, in the United States 7% of the male population is color blind. We believe that we can improve the ClearType algorithm so that text for a colorblind reader is even better than for a reader without colorblindedness. Researching ways to improve text rendering for those with high color sensitivity and lower visual acuity would be just as important for us.
Making the screen the best possible place to read is an exciting opportunity for us. It blends the engineering challenges of working with many display technologies and human visual systems with the artistic challenge of creating a beautiful set of glyphs, where every subtle typographic nuance is important. In doing this, we need to keep in mind how the science of reading must guide us in making the experience optimal for us—humans. Each rendering technology has advantages and disadvantages for different people; depending on the application in use there are tradeoffs involved. Many of these issues go beyond the ability for people to easily discern choices. Our job is to work hard to provide a great platform for developers as well as tools that people can use to make choices and control how they use their technology. Our goal should be that the out-of-box experience just works. We think that, most of the time, we’ve accomplished this and we also recognize this area is complex and there is a wide spectrum of feedback.
The team at Microsoft working on these problems has been together since 1990, developing fonts and font-rendering solutions, and working to get a better understanding of the science of reading. The team is made up of engineers, type designers/artists, and psychologists and we work with many other experts throughout Microsoft in attempting to tackle this tough, yet vitally important task. You spend over 80% of the time at the computer reading, so it should be as pleasant an experience as possible. The following article from IEEE Spectrum describes some of the issues we deal with related to the technology, art, and science of text.
We promised that this blog would provide a view of Engineering Windows 7 and that means that we would cover the full range of topics—from performance to user interface, technical and non-technical topics, and of course easy topics and controversial topics. This post is about User Account Control. Our author is Ben Fathi, vice president for core OS development. UAC is a feature that crosses many aspects of the Windows architecture—security, accounts, user interface, design, and so on—we had several other members of the team contribute to the post.
We continue to value the discussion that the posts seem to inspire—we are betting (not literally of course) that this post will bring out comments from even the most reserved of our readers. Let’s keep the comments constructive and on-topic for this one.
FWIW, the blogs.msdn.com server employs some throttles on comments that aim to reduce spam. We don’t control this and have all the “unmoderated” options checked. I can’t publish the spam protection rules since that sort of defeats the purpose (and I don’t know them). However, I apologize if your comment doesn’t make it through. --Steven
User Account Control (UAC) is, arguably, one of the most controversial features in Windows Vista. Why did Microsoft add all those popups to Windows? Does it actually improve security? Doesn’t everyone just click “continue”? Has anyone in Redmond heard the feedback on users and reviewers? Has anyone seen a tv commercial about this feature?
In the course of working on Windows 7 we have taken a hard look at UAC – examining customer feedback, volumes of data, the software ecosystem, and Windows itself. Let’s start by looking at why UAC came to be and our approach in Vista.
Technical details aside, UAC is really about informing you before any “system-level” change is made to your computer, thus enabling you to be in control of your system. An “unwanted change” can be malicious, such as a virus turning off the firewall or a rootkit stealthily taking over the machine. However an “unwanted change” can also be actions from people who have limited privileges, such as a child trying to bypass Parental Controls on the family computer or an employee installing prohibited software on a work computer. Windows NT has always supported multiple user account types – one of which is the “standard user,” which does not have the administrative privileges necessary to make changes like these. Enterprises can (and commonly do) supply most employees with a standard user account while providing a few IT pros administrative privileges. A standard user can’t make system level changes, even accidentally, by going to a malicious website or installing the wrong program. Controlling the changes most people can make to the computer reduces help desk calls and the overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to the company. At home, a parent can create a standard user account for the children and use Parental Controls to protect them.
However, outside the enterprise and the Parental Controls case, most machines (75%) have a single account with full admin privileges. This is partly due to the first user account defaulting to administrator, since an administrator on the machine is required, and partly due to the fact that people want and expect to be in control of their computer. Since most users have an Administrator account, this has historically created an environment where most applications, as well as some Windows components, always assumed they could make system-level changes to the system. Software written this way would not work for standard users, such as the enterprise user and parental control cases mentioned above. Additionally, giving every application full access to the computer left the door open for damaging changes to the system, either intentionally (by malware) or unintentionally (by poorly written software.)
Figure 1. Percentage of machines (server excluded) with one or more user accounts from January 2008 to June 2008.
User Account Control was implemented in Vista to address two key issues: one, incompatibility of software across user types and two, the lack of user knowledge of system-level changes. We expanded the account types by adding the Protected Admin (PA), which became the default type for the first account on the system. When a PA user logs into the system, she is given two security tokens – one identical to the Standard User token that is sufficient for most basic privileges and a second with full Administrator privileges. Standard users receive only the basic token, but can bring in an Administrator token from another account if needed.
When the system detects that the user wants to perform an operation which requires administrative privileges, the display is switched to “secure desktop” mode, and the user is presented with a prompt asking for approval. The reason the display is transitioned to “secure desktop” is to avoid malicious software attacks that attempt to get you to click yes to the UAC prompt by mimicking the UAC interface (spoofing the UI.) They are not able to do this when the desktop is in its “secure” state. Protected Admin users are thus informed of any system changes, and only need to click yes to approve the action. A standard user sees a similar dialog, but one that enables her to enter Administrative credentials (via password, smart card PIN, fingerprint, etc) from another account to bring in the Administrator privileges needed to complete the action. In the case of a home system utilizing Parental Controls, the parent would enter his or her login name and password to install the software, thus enabling the parent to be in control of software added to the system or changes made to the system. In the enterprise case, the IT administrator can control the prompts through group policy such that the standard user just gets a message informing her that she cannot change system state.
We are always trying to improve Windows, especially in the areas that affect our customers the most. This section will look at the data around the ecosystem, Windows, and end-users—recognizing that the data itself does not tell the story of annoyance or frustration that many reading this post might feel.
UAC has had a significant impact on the software ecosystem, Vista users, and Windows itself. As mentioned in previous posts, there are ways for our customers to voluntarily and anonymously send us data on how they use our features (Customer Experience Improvement Program, Windows Feedback Panel, user surveys, user in field testing, blog posts, and in house usability testing). The data and feedback we collect help inform and prioritize the decisions we make about our feature designs. From this data, we’ve learned a lot about UAC’s impact.
UAC has resulted in a radical reduction in the number of applications that unnecessarily require admin privileges, which is something we think improves the overall quality of software and reduces the risks inherent in software on a machine which requires full administrative access to the system.
In the first several months after Vista was available for use, people were experiencing a UAC prompt in 50% of their “sessions” - a session is everything that happens from logon to logoff or within 24 hours. Furthermore, there were 775,312 unique applications (note: this shows the volume of unique software that Windows supports!) producing prompts (note that installers and the application itself are not counted as the same program.) This seems large, and it is since much of the software ecosystem unnecessarily required admin privileges to run. As the ecosystem has updated their software, far fewer applications are requiring admin privileges. Customer Experience Improvement Program data from August 2008 indicates the number of applications and tasks generating a prompt has declined from 775,312 to 168,149.
Figure 2. Number of unique applications and tasks creating UAC prompts.
This reduction means more programs work well for Standard Users without prompting every time they run or accidentally changing an administrative or system setting. In addition, we also expect that as people use their machines longer they are installing new software or configuring Windows settings less frequently, which results in fewer prompts, or conversely when a machine is new that is when there is unusually high activity with respect to administrative needs. Customer Experience Improvement Program data indicates that the number of sessions with one or more UAC prompts has declined from 50% to 33% of sessions with Vista SP1.
Figure 3. Percentage of sessions with prompts over time.
An immediate result of UAC was the increase in engineering quality of Windows. There are now far fewer Windows components with full access to the system. Additionally, all the components that still need to access the full system must ask the user for permission to do so. We know from our data that Windows itself accounts for about 40% of all UAC prompts. This is even more dramatic when you look at the most frequent prompts: Windows components accounted for 17 of the top 50 UAC prompts in Vista and 29 of the top 50 in Vista SP1. Some targeted improvements in Vista SP1 reduced Windows prompts from frequently used components such as the copy engine, but clearly we have more we can (and will) do. The ecosystem also worked hard to reduce their prompts, thus the number of Windows components on the top 50 list increased. Windows has more of an opportunity to make deeper architectural changes in Windows 7, so you can expect fewer prompts from Windows components. Reducing prompts in the software ecosystem and in Windows is a win-win proposition. It enables people to feel confident they have a greater choice of software that does not make potentially destabilizing changes to the system, and it enables people to more readily identify critical prompts, thus providing a more confident sense of control.
One important area of feedback we’ve heard a lot about is the number of prompts encountered during a download from Internet Explorer. This is a specific example of a more common situation - where an application’s security dialogs overlap with User Account Control. Since XP Service Pack 2, IE has used a security dialog to warn users before running programs from the internet. In Vista, this often results in a double prompt – IE’s security dialog, followed immediately by a UAC dialog. This is an area that should be properly addressed.
Figure 4. Number of Microsoft prompters in the top 50 over time.
One extra click to do normal things like open the device manager, install software, or turn off your firewall is sometimes confusing and frustrating for our users. Here is a representative sample of the feedback we’ve received from the Windows Feedback Panel:
We understand adding an extra click can be annoying, especially for users who are highly knowledgeable about what is happening with their system (or for people just trying to get work done). However, for most users, the potential benefit is that UAC forces malware or poorly written software to show itself and get your approval before it can potentially harm the system.
Does this make the system more secure? If every user of Windows were an expert that understands the cause/effect of all operations, the UAC prompt would make perfect sense and nothing malicious would slip through. The reality is that some people don’t read the prompts, and thus gain no benefit from them (and are just annoyed). In Vista, some power users have chosen to disable UAC – a setting that is admittedly hard to find. We don’t recommend you do this, but we understand you find value in the ability to turn UAC off. For the rest of you who try to figure out what is going on by reading the UAC prompt , there is the potential for a definite security benefit if you take the time to analyze each prompt and decide if it’s something you want to happen. However, we haven’t made things easy on you - the dialogs in Vista aren’t easy to decipher and are often not memorable. In one lab study we conducted, only 13% of participants could provide specific details about why they were seeing a UAC dialog in Vista. Some didn’t remember they had seen a dialog at all when asked about it. Additionally, we are seeing consumer administrators approving 89% of prompts in Vista and 91% in SP1. We are obviously concerned users are responding out of habit due to the large number of prompts rather than focusing on the critical prompts and making confident decisions. Many would say this is entirely predictable.
Figure 5. Percentage of prompts over time per prompt type.
Figure 6. Percentage of UAC prompts allowed over time.
Now that we have the data and feedback, we can look ahead at how UAC will evolve—we continue to feel the goal we have for UAC is a good one and so it is our job to find a solution that does not abandon this goal. UAC was created with the intention of putting you in control of your system, reducing cost of ownership over time, and improving the software ecosystem. What we’ve learned is that we only got part of the way there in Vista and some folks think we accomplished the opposite.
Based on what we’ve learned from our data and feedback we need to address several key issues in Windows 7:
The benefits UAC has provided to the ecosystem and Windows are clear; we need to continue that work. By successfully enabling standard users UAC has achieved its goal of giving IT administrators and parents greater control to lock down their systems for certain users. As shown in our data above, we’ve seen the number of external applications and Windows components that unnecessarily require Admin privileges dramatically drop. This also has the direct benefit of reducing the total amount of prompts users see, a common complaint we hear frequently. Moving forward we will look at the scenarios we think are most important for our users so we can ensure none of these scenarios include prompts that can be avoided. Additionally, we will look at “top prompters” and continue to engage with third-party software vendors and internal Microsoft teams to further reduce unnecessary prompts.
More importantly, as we evolve UAC for Windows 7 we will address the customer feedback and satisfaction issues with the prompts themselves. We’ve heard loud and clear that you are frustrated. You find the prompts too frequent, annoying, and confusing. We still want to provide you control over what changes can happen to your system, but we want to provide you a better overall experience. We believe this can be achieved by focusing on two key principles. 1) Broaden the control you have over the UAC notifications. We will continue to give you control over the changes made to your system, but in Windows 7, we will also provide options such that when you use the system as an administrator you can determine the range of notifications that you receive. 2) Provide additional and more relevant information in the user interface. We will improve the dialog UI so that you can better understand and make more informed choices. We’ve already run new design concepts based on this principle through our in-house usability testing and we’ve seen very positive results. 83% of participants could provide specific details about why they were seeing the dialog. Participants preferred the new concepts because they are “simple”, “highlight verified publishers,” “provide the file origin,” and “ask a meaningful question.”
In summary, yes, we’ve heard the responses to the UAC feature – both positive and negative. We plan to continue to build on the benefits UAC provides as an agent for standard user, making systems more secure. In doing so, we will also address the overwhelming feedback that the user experience must improve.
Many posts start with a thank you and I want to start this post with an extra special thank you on behalf of the entire Windows team for all the installs and usage we are seeing of the Windows 7 Beta. We’ve had millions of installations of Windows 7 from which we are receiving telemetry, which is simply incredible. And from those who click on the “Send Feedback” button we are receiving detailed bug reports and of course many suggestions. There is simply no way we could move from Beta through Final Release of Windows 7 without this type of breadth coverage and engagement from you in the development cycle. There’s been such an incredible response, with many folks even blogging about how they have moved to using Windows 7 Beta on all their machines and have been super happy. The question we get most often is “if the Beta expires in August what will I do—I don’t want to return to my old [sic] operating system.” For a Beta release, that is quite a complement and we’re very appreciative of such a kind response.
This post is about the path from where we are today, Beta, to our RTM (Release To Manufacturing), building on the discussion of this topic that started at the PDC. This post is in no way an announcement of a ship date, change in plans, or change in our previously described process, but rather it provides additional detail and a forward looking view of the path to RTM and General Availability. The motivation for this, in addition to the high level of interest in Windows 7, is that we’re now seeing how releasing Windows is not something that Microsoft does “solo”, but rather is something that we do as one part of the overall PC ecosystem. Obviously we have a big responsibility to do our part, one we take very seriously of course. The last stages of a Windows release are a partnership across the entire ecosystem working to make sure that the incredible variety of choices you have for PCs, software, and peripherals work together to bring you a complete and satisfying Windows 7 experience.
The next milestone for the development of Windows 7 is the Release Candidate or “RC”. Historically the Release Candidate has signaled “we’re pretty close and we want people to start testing the release, especially because all the features are done.” As we have said before, with Windows 7 we chose a slightly different approach which we were clear up front about and are all now experiencing together and out in the open. The Pre-Beta from the PDC was a release where we said it was substantially API complete and even for the areas that were not in the release we detailed the APIs and experience in the sessions at the PDC. At that time we announced that the Beta test in early 2009 would be both API and feature complete, widely available, and would be the only Beta test. We continued this dialog with our hardware partners at WinHEC. We also said that many ecosystem partners including PC makers, software vendors, hardware makers will, as has been the case, continue to receive interim builds on a regular basis. This is where we stand today. We’ve released the feature complete Beta and have made it available broadly around the world (though we know folks have requested even more languages). As a development team we’re doing just what many of you do, which is choosing to run the Beta full time on many PCs at home and work (personally I have at least 9 different machines running it full time) and we’re running it on many thousands of individual’s machines inside Microsoft, and thousands of machines in our labs as well.
All the folks running the Beta are actively contributing to fixing it. We’re getting performance telemetry, application compatibility data, usage information, and details on device requirements among other areas. This data is very structured and very actionable. We have very high-bandwidth relationships with partners and good tools to help each other to deliver a great experience. One thing you might be seeing is that hardware and software vendors might be trying out updated drivers / software enhanced for Windows 7. For example, many of the anti-virus vendors already have released compatibility packs or updates that are automatically applied to your running installation. You might notice, for example, that many GPU chipsets are being recognized and Windows 7 downloads the updated WDDM 1.1 drivers. While the Windows Vista drivers work as expected, the new 1.1 drivers provide enhanced performance and a reduced memory footprint, which can make a big difference on 1GB shared memory machines. You might insert a device and receive a recently updated version of a driver as I did for a Logitech QuickCam. Another example some of you might have seen is that the Beta requires a an updated version of Skype software currently in testing. When you go to install the old version you get an error message and then the problem and solutions user interface kicks in and you are redirected to the Beta site. This type of error handling is deployed in real time as we learn more and as the ecosystem builds out support. It is only because of our partnerships across the ecosystem that such efforts are possible, even during the Beta.
Of course, it is worth reiterating that our design point is that devices and software that work on Windows Vista and are still supported by the manufacturer will work on Windows 7 with the same software. There are classes of software and devices that are Windows-version specific for a variety of reasons, as we have talked about, and we continue to work together to deliver great solutions for Windows 7. The ability to provide people the vast array of choices and the openness of the Windows platform make all of this a massive undertaking. We continue to work to improve this while also making sure we provide the opportunities for choice and differentiation that are critical to the health and variety of the overall ecosystem. This data and the work we’re doing together with partners is the critical work going on now to reach the Release Candidate phase.
We’re also looking carefully at all the quality metrics we gather during the Beta. We investigate crashes, hangs, app compat issues, and also real-world performance of key scenarios. A very significant portion of our effort from Beta to RC is focused on exclusively on quality and performance. We want to fix bugs experienced by customers in real usage as well as our broad base of test suites and automation. A key part of this work is to fix the bugs that people really encounter and we do so by focusing our efforts on the data we receive to drive the ordering and priority of which bugs to fix. As Internet Explorer has moved to Release Candidate, we’ve seen this at work and also read about it on IE Blog.
Of course the other work we’re doing is refining the final product based on all the real-world usage and feedback. We’ve received a lot of verbatim feedback regarding the user experience—whether that is default settings, keyboard shortcuts, or desired options to name a few things. Needless to say just working through, structuring, and “tallying” this feedback is a massive undertaking and we have folks dedicated to doing just that. At the peak we were receiving one “Send Feedback” note every 15 seconds! As we’ve talked about in this blog, we receive a lot of feedback where we must weigh the opinions we receive because we hear from all sides of an issue—that’s to be expected and really the core design challenge. We also receive feedback where we thought something was straight forward or would work fine, but in practice needed some tuning and refinement. Over the next weeks we’ll be blogging about some of these specific changes to the product. These changes are part of the process and part of the time we have scheduled between Beta and RC.
So right now, every day we are researching issues, resolving them, and making sure those resolutions did not cause regressions (in performance, behavior, compatibility, or reliability). The path to Release Candidate is all about getting the product to a known and shippable state both from an internal and external (Beta usage and partner ecosystem readiness) standpoint.
We will then provide the Release Candidate as a refresh for the Beta. We expect, based on our experience with the Beta, a broad set of folks to be pretty interested in trying it out.
With the RC, this process of feedback based on telemetry then repeats itself. However at this milestone we will be very selective about what changes we make between the Release Candidate and the final product, and very clear in communicating them. We will act on the most critical issues. The point of the Release Candidate is to make sure everyone is ready for the release and that there is time between the Release Candidate and our release to PC makers and manufacturing to validate all the work that has gone on since the pre-Beta. Again, we expect very few changes to the code. We often “joke” that this is the point of lowest productivity for the development team because we all come to work focused on the product but we write almost no code. That’s the way it has to be—the ship is on the launch pad and all the tools are put away in the toolbox to be used only in case of the most critical issues.
As stated up front, this is a partnership and the main thing going on during this phase of the project is really about ecosystem readiness. PC makers, software vendors, hardware makers all have their own lead times. The time to prepare new products, new configurations, software updates, and all the collateral that goes with that means that Windows 7 cannot hit the streets (so to speak) until everyone has time to be ready together. Think of all those web sites, download pages, how-to articles, training materials, and peripheral packages that need to be created—this takes time and knowing that the Release Candidate is the final code that we’re all testing out in the open is reassuring for the ecosystem. Our goal is that by being deliberate, predictable, and reliable, the full PC experience is available to customers.
We also continue to build out our compatibility lists, starting with logo products, so that our http://www.microsoft.com/windows/compatibility site is a good resource for people starting with availability. All of these come together with the PC makers creating complete “images” of Windows 7 PCs, including the full software, hardware, and driver loads. This is sort of a rehearsal for the next steps.
At that point the product is ready for release and that’s just what we will do. We might even follow that up with a bit of a celebration!
There’s one extra step which is what we call General Availability or GA. This step is really the time it takes literally to “fill the channel” with Windows PCs that are pre-loaded with Windows 7 and stock the stores (online or in-person) with software. We know many folks would like us to make the RTM software available right away for download, but this release will follow our more established pattern. GA also allows us time to complete the localization and ready Windows for a truly worldwide delivery in a relatively small window of time, a smaller window for Windows 7 than any previous release. It is worth noting that the Release Candidate will continue to function long enough so no one should worry and everyone should feel free to keep running the Release Candidate.
So to summarize briefly:
The obvious question is that we know the Pre-Beta was October 28, 2008, and the Beta was January 7th, so when is the Release Candidate and RTM? The answer is forthcoming. We are currently evaluating the feedback and telemetry and working to develop a robust schedule that gets us the right level of quality in a predictable manner. Believe me, we know many people want to know more specifics. We’re on a good path and we’re making progress. We are taking a quality-based approach to completing the product and won’t be driven by imposed deadlines. We have internal metrics and milestones and our partners continue to get builds routinely so even when we reach RC, we are doing so together as partners. And it relies, rather significantly, on all of you testing the Beta and our partners who are helping us get to the finish line together.
Shipping Windows, as we hoped this shows, is really an industry-wide partnership. As we talked about in our first post, we’re promising to deliver the best release of Windows we possibly can and that’s our goal. Together, and with a little bit more patience, we’ll achieve that goal.
We continue to be humbled by the response to Windows 7 and are heads down on delivering a product that continues to meet your needs and the needs of our whole industry.
--Steven on behalf of the Windows 7 team
As mentioned before on this blog (regarding our UAC changes) and on the IE blog (regarding the SmartScreen® filter for malware), we have an increased focus to enable customers to be in control and feel confident about the software that they choose to run on their computers. Folks on this blog have also commented about the concerns they have specifically in the AutoPlay area. This blog entry addresses some of the changes that we have made to increase customer confidence when using their media and devices with Windows. It is authored by Arik Cohen, a program manager on the Core User Experience team. –Steven [Note: There was a technical problem so this post was reposted in its entirety.]
Certain malware, including the Conficker worm, have started making use of the capabilities of AutoRun to provide a seemingly benign task to people – which masquerades as a Trojan Horse to get malware onto the computer. The malware then infects future devices plugged into that computer with the same Trojan Horse. For further information about Conficker please visit http://www.microsoft.com/protect/computer/viruses/worms/conficker.mspx
In the following example for a USB flash drive that has photos, malware registers as the benign task of “Open folders to view files.” If you select the first “Open folders to view files” (circled in red), you would be running malware. However, if you select the second task (circled in green), you would be safe running the Windows task.
Infected USB AutoPlay
People are confused why they have two tasks that appear to do the same thing – and even a knowledgeable person who is careful not to run software from an untrusted source can easily make the mistake of selecting the first task. As a result, people lose confidence and don’t feel in control.
A growing attack
While presenting an AutoRun task in AutoPlay has been available since Windows XP, we have seen a marked increase in the amount of malware that is using AutoRun as a potential method of propagation. According to the Security Intelligence Report, an enterprise study by Forefront Client Security found that the category of malware that can propagate via AutoRun accounted for 17.7% of infections in the second half of 2008 – the largest single category of malware infections.
The chart below shows the increasing amount of detection reports by Microsoft anti-virus software of the class of infections that spread via AutoRun. (Note: The actual method of infection cannot be determined.)
Infection Detections of Malware that Spread via AutoRun
Infection Detections of Malware that Spread via AutoRun
Currently, disabling AutoPlay completely is the only solution for consumers and enterprises to gain confidence with the use of USB flash devices on their computer. Guidance on disabling AutoPlay is available here.
Increasing customer confidence
Windows 7 introduces key changes to AutoPlay that keep you from being exposed inadvertently to malware like Conficker when doing your common scenarios with devices (e.g., get to the files on your USB flash drive, download pictures from an SD card, etc.).
In particular, Windows will no longer display the AutoRun task in the AutoPlay dialog for devices that are not removable optical media (CD/DVD.) because there is no way to identify the origin of these entries. Was it put there by the IHV, a person, or a piece of malware? Removing this AutoRun task will block the current propagation method abused by malware and help customers stay protected. People will still be able to access all of the other AutoPlay tasks that are installed on their computer.
With these changes, if you insert a USB flash drive that has photos and has been infected by malware, you can be confident that the tasks displayed are all from software already on your computer:
Infected USB AutoPlay after AutoPlay changes
Infected USB AutoPlay after AutoPlay changes
On the other hand, if you insert a CD that offers software to install, Windows will still display the AutoRun task provided by the ISV during their media creation process. For example:
AutoPlay for a CD that offers an AutoRun Task
AutoPlay for a CD that offers an AutoRun Task
You will first see this updated AutoRun experience in the Windows 7 RC build, and we will be bringing this change to Vista and XP in the future.
We are working with our ecosystem partners to help mitigate situations where this AutoRun change will have an impact on them.
CDs and DVDs (including CD emulation), where the IHV specified AutoRun task authored during manufacturing, will continue to provide the AutoRun choice allowing customers to run the specified software. IHVs of generic mass storage devices should expect that people will browse the contents of the device to launch any software. The new behavior will allow customers to continue to use AutoPlay (including all Windows and ISV installed tasks) to access their media and devices while not being presented with tasks from malware. Additionally, device classes, such as portable media players and cell phones, now support Device Stage™ on Windows 7. Device Stage offers the IHV a multifunction alternative to AutoPlay where they can present links to software and common tasks, and provides additional features as you use the device.
As you try out the Windows 7 RC, we hope these changes will make you feel more confident and in control when using your media and devices.
Just about every email we receive and every comment we get comes with feedback—something to change, something to do more of, something to do less of, and so on. As we’ve talked about in this blog, acting on each one in an affirmative manner is easier said than done. What we can say for certain, is that we are listening to each and every comment, blog post, news story, MS Connect report, Send Feedback item, and of course all the data and telemetry. This post kicks off the discussion of changes made to the product with an overview of the feedback process. We'll get into specific changes shortly and we'll continue to return to the theme of changes in the Release Candidate (RC) over the next weeks. Yesterday on the IE Blog, you saw that we'll be updating IE 8 on Windows 7, and there we also talked about the feedback process in general.
Feedback about Windows 7 of course starts before we've written any code, and by the time we've got running code thousands of people outside of Microsoft have provided input and influenced the feature set and design of Windows 7. As we've seen, the input from even a small set of customers can often represent a wide variety of choices--often in alignment, but just as often in opposition. As we're developing the features for Windows 7 we work closely with PC makers, enterprise customers, and all types of customers across small business, education, enthusiasts, product reviewers and industry "thought leaders", and so on. We shape the overall "blueprint" of the release based on this wide variety of input. As we have design prototypes or code running, we have much more targeted and specific feedback by using tools such as usability tests, concept tests, benchmark studies, and other techniques to validate the implementation of this blueprint. Our goal with this level of feedback is for it to be representative of the broad set of Windows customers, even if we don't have a 1:1 interaction with each and every customer. Hopefully this post will offer some insights into this process overall--the tools and techniques, and the scope of feedback.
In the first few weeks of the Windows 7 beta we had over one million people install and use Windows 7. That's an astounding number for any beta test and while we know it has been fun for many folks, it has been a lot of work for us--but work that helps to raise the quality of Windows 7. When you use the beta you are automatically enrolled in our Customer Experience Improvement Program (anonymous feedback and telemetry, which is voluntary and opt-in in the RTM release). Just by using Windows 7 as a beta tester you are helping to improve the product--you are providing feedback that we are acting on in a systematic manner. Here is a sense of the scale of feedback we are talking about:
We have a variety of tools we draw on to help inform the decision making process. A key element that we have focused on quite a bit in Windows 7 is the role of data in making decisions. Everything we do is a judgment call as ultimately product development is about deciding what to get done from an infinite set of possibilities, but the role of data is essential and is something that has become far more routine and critical. It is important to be super clear—data is not a substitute for good judgment or an excuse to make a decision one way or another, but it most definitely informs the decision. This is especially true in an era where the data is not only a survey or focus group, but often includes a “sampling” of millions of people using Windows over the course of an extended time period.
A quick story from years ago working on Office, many years ago before the development of telemetry and the internet deciding what features to put in a release of Office could really be best described as a battle. The battle took place in conference rooms where people would basically debate until one or more parties gave up from fatigue (mental or otherwise)—essentially adrenaline-based product development. The last person standing, the one with the most endurance, or the one who pulled an all-nighter to write the code pretty much determined how features ended up or what features ended up in a product. Sort of like turning feature design over to a Survivor-like process. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this sort of process. The challenges with this approach are numerous, but inevitably features do not hold together well (in terms of scenarios or architecture), the product lacks coherency, and most importantly unless you happen to have a good match between the “winner” and the target customers, features will often miss the mark.
In the early 1990’s we started instrumenting Word and learning about how people actually used the software (this was before the internet so this was a special version of the product we solicited volunteers to run and then we would collect the data via lots of floppies). We would compile data and learn about which features people used and how much people used them. We learned things such as how much more people used tables than we thought, but for things very different than tables. We learned that a very significant amount of time the first suggestion in the spelling dictionary was the right correction (hence autocorrect). We learned that no one ever read the tip of the day (“Don’t run with scissors”). This data enabled us to make real decisions about what to fix, the impact of changes, and then when looked at the goals (the resulting documents) what direction to take word processing.
Fast forward to the development of Windows 7 and we’re focused on using data to help inform decisions we make. This data takes many forms and helps in many ways. I know a lot of folks have questions about the data – is it representative, how does it help fix things people should be using but don’t, what about doing new things, and so on. Data is an important element of making decisions, but not a substitute for clear product goals, meaningful customer engagement, and working across the ecosystem to bring Windows 7 to customers.
Let’s talk a bit about “bugs”. Up front it is worth making sure we’re on the same page when we use the much overloaded term bug. For us a bug is any time the software does something that someone one wasn’t expecting it to do. A bug can be a cosmetic issue, a consistency issue, a crash, a hang, a failure to succeed, a confusing user experience, a compatibility issue, a missing feature, or any one of dozens of different ways that the software can behave in a way that isn’t expected. A bug for us is not an emotional term, but just shorthand for an entry in our database representing feedback on the product. Bugs can be reported by a human or by the various forms of telemetry built into Windows 7. This broad definition allows us to track and catalog everything experienced in the product and do so in a uniform manner.
Briefly, it is worth considering a few types of data that help to inform decisions as some examples.
This type of feedback all represents structured feedback in that the data is collected based on a systematic study and usually has a hypothesis associated with it. We also have the unstructured feedback which represents the vast array of bug reports, comments, questions, and points of view expressed in blogs, newsgroups, and the Send Feedback button—these are unstructured because these are not collected in a systematic manner, but aggressively collected by any and all means. A special form of this input is the bug reporting done through the Connect program—the technical beta—which represents bug reports, feature suggestions, and comments from this set of participants.
The Windows 7 beta represents a new level of feedback in this regard in terms of the overall volume as we talked about above. If you go back and consider the size of the development team and the time it would take to just read the reports you can imagine just digesting (categorizing, understanding, flagging) issues let alone responding to them is a massive undertaking (about 40 Send Feedback reports per developer during that one week, though as you can imagine they are not evenly distributed across teams).
The challenge of how to incorporate all the feedback at this stage in the cycle is significant. It is emotional for us at Microsoft and the source of both considerable pride and also some consternation. We often say “no matter what happens, someone always said it would.” By that we mean, on any given issue you can be assured that all sides will be represented by passionate and informed views of how to resolve it, often in direct opposition to each other plus every view in the middle. That means for the vast majority of issues there is no right or wrong in an absolute sense, only a good decision within the context of a given situation. We see this quite a bit in the debates about how features should work—multiple solutions proposed and debate takes place in comments on a blog (people even do whole blogs about how things should work). But ultimately on the Windows development team we have to make a call as we’re seeing a lot of people are looking forward to us finishing Windows 7, which means we need to stop changing the product and ship it. We might not always make the right call and we’ll admit if we don’t make the right call, even if we find changing the behavior is not possible.
Making these decisions is the job of program management (PM). PMs don’t lock themselves in their offices and issue opinions, but more realistically they gather all the facts, data, points of view, and work to synthesize the best approach for a given situation. Program management’s role is making sure all the voices are heard, including beta testers, development, testing, sales, marketing, design, customer support, other teams, ISVs, IHVs, and on and on. Their role is to synthesize and represent these points of view systematically.
There are many factors that go into understanding a given choice:
These are just a few of the factors that go into considering a product change. As you can see, this is not something that we take lightly and a lot goes into each and every change. We consider all the inputs we have and consider all the data we can gather. In some ways it is easy to freeze thinking about the decisions we must make to release Windows 7—if you think too hard about a decision because you might start to worry about a billion people relying on something and it gets very tricky. So we use data to keep ourselves objective and to keep the decision process informed and repeatable. We are always humbled by the responsibility we have.
While writing this post, I received a “bug report” email with the explicit statement “is Microsoft going to side step this issue despite the magnitude of the problem” along with the inevitable “Microsoft never listens to feedback”. Receiving mail like this is tough—we’re in the doghouse before we even start. The sender has decided that this report is symbolic of Microsoft’s inability or lack of desire to incorporate critical feedback and to fix must fix bugs during development. Microsoft is too focused on shipping to do the right thing. I feel like I’m stuck because the only answer being looked for is the fix and anything less is a problem or further proof of our failure. And in the back of my mind is the reality that this is just one person with one issue I just happen to be talking to in email. There over a couple of million people using the beta and if each one, or for that matter just one out of 10, have some unique change, bug fix, or must do work item we would have literally years of work just to make our way through that list. And if you think about the numbers and consider that we might easily get 1,000,000 submitted new “work items” for a product cycle, even if we do 100,000 of them it means we have 900,000 folks who feel we don’t listen compared to the 100,000 folks who feel listened to. Perhaps that puts the challenge in context.
With this post we tried to look at some of the ways we think about the feedback we’re getting and how we evaluate feedback in the course of developing Windows 7. No area is more complex than balancing the needs (and desires) of such a large and diverse population—end-users, developers, IT professionals, hardware makers, PC manufacturers, silicon partners, software vendors, PC enthusiasts, sysadmins, and so on. A key reason we augment our approach with data and studies that deliberately select for representative groups of “users” is that it is important to avoid “tyranny of the majority” or “rule by the crowd”. In a sense, the lesson we learned from adrenaline -based development was that being systematic, representative, and as scientific as possible in the use of data.
The work of acting on feedback responsibly and managing the development of Windows through all phases of the process is something we are very sincere about. Internally we’ve talked a lot about being a learning organization and how we’re always learning how to do a better job, improve the work we do, and in the process work to make Windows even better. We take this approach as individuals and how we view building Windows. We know we will continue to have tough choices to make as everyone who builds products understands and what you have is our commitment to continue to use all the tools available to make sure we are building the best Windows 7 we can build.
There’s a strong community of developers who take advantage of the ink input/TabletPC functionality to develop unique solutions for specific markets (medicine, education, line of business) and create software in Windows that builds on this experience to streamline how these end-users interact with information on their PC (usually with unique form-factors such as slates or wall mounted PCs). Earlier this week I received a great email asking “what’s new for us” from the head of development for one such ISV (medical software) and so we put together an overview of the new functionality. Several Program Managers on the team authored this post.
Also, as you have noticed, the site has had some uptime troubles over the past 10 days or so and I think we’re all back to normal. That’s ok since we’ve also been pretty busy in the Windows 7 hallway :-) --Steven
Hi, my name is Jan-Kristian and I’m a Program Manager on the Core User Experience team for Windows 7. One of my focus areas is pen and touch text input, and I’d like to share some of the exciting things we have been working on.
The Tablet PC Input Panel, what we often called the TIP for short, is the tool to insert text using handwriting into any Windows application. It also has a soft-keyboard you can use for text entry. The Input Panel has been around since the first version of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, and we’ve made steady improvements to the user experience in each version.
Our goal with the TIP is to make it as light-weight as possible so you can think about what you are writing and not how you are doing it. We received a lot of positive feedback on the improvements we did to the Input Panel in Windows Vista, but there were still areas that caused confusion or took more steps than necessary.
Windows Vista Input Panel – The handwriting recognition results are shown as small text bubbles under the writing surface. To verify recognition you need to look down at the bubbles, if you see an error you then tap on a bubble to bring up a secondary window for correction.
Based on analysis of our telemetry from Vista and usability tests we focused on two significant areas of improvement for Windows 7:
To achieve these goals we needed to make fundamental changes to the writing pad. As we explored different ideas we decided on a model where ink was converted in-place to text as the user was writing. Although this sounds like a straightforward UI model, there were a lot of open questions on what the right behavior should be: when do we convert, how big should the text be, what font should we use… The only way to make sure we created a natural and efficient handwriting experience was to get real user feedback. We utilized the RITE (Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) method. RITE testing is a cycle-based usability method that was developed at Microsoft as part of usability testing of the Age of Empires II game. For each cycle you try to make small improvement to the user experience and then you re-test to see how well it worked. We went through roughly 20 cycles before we had a design that we felt was ready to be documented.
One of the most important things we adjusted during RITE testing was the timing for the automatic ink to text conversion. Converting too early or too late would break the user experience; to get this right we had to do a lot of behind the scenes work. Our final solution is a combination of a distance trigger (automatically adapting to the user’s average word spacing), recognizer-result-based trigger, and a time-based trigger. Another factor was the text size, in the end we use dynamic sizing to closely match the size of the handwriting.
The new text-based UI in the writing surface allows you to get to the text they wanted faster. Having a single representation of the text makes the experience less complex and reduces the height of the Input Panel. Using text instead of ink makes the writing surface much more flexible as we can move the text around as much as we want – inserting a word between two words is now as simple as just starting to write in the space and we will auto-grow the space as much as needed.
With the ink to text conversion working we needed a correspondingly natural way of editing recognized text. Gestures seemed to be the perfect solution for this - we were creating a pen-based UI, so we should use the pen. We limited ourselves to a small number of gestures: delete, split (add space), and join. We collected samples of how people would perform these three actions on paper. Based on our collected data we then created our gestures. To make the gestures discoverable, we added the “gesture panel”, which is an interactive “cheat sheet” in the title bar of the Input Panel.
Let’s take a look at how this all comes together in the new Windows 7 writing surface [Ed. Note, used YouTube with Windows Live Photo Gallery on Windows 7]:
Writing Pad: The new writing pad in action, animation is used to provide meaningful transitions so that the user can easily see the result of their actions.
Our telemetry showed us that corrections were one of the more painful parts of using the TIP in Vista, to correct a word you often had to rewrite all of the characters. In Windows 7, we leveraged work from Microsoft Research to design the Smart Correction feature to make word corrections much faster. Now you just start correcting a word left-to-right and Windows performs a new recognition every time you enter a character. This constrained recognition will almost always give you the desired result within a few character corrections.
Smart Corrections: “worked” is auto-corrected to “wonderful” with just a single character change. All you have to do is start correcting the word from the left and it will keep updating until you get the word you want.
One extra writing pad feature worth mentioning: our instrumentation data showed that the most used applications with the Input Panel are web browsers, and when you are browsing one of the main scenarios is to enter URLs.
Entering URLs: The flexibility of the new writing pad makes entering URLs easy by pre-populating parts of the URL
Notice how the different URL segments are separated and all have alternates that make sense. The alternates are based on what you use most frequently, so if you choose “.net” a lot then that will become the top alternate and set by default in the URL template. The “Insert” button also changed to “Go to” to let the user insert the URL and navigate to it with a single click.
The Input Panel also has a soft-keyboard available which is great for the Pen or Touch. Some of the updates we made might seem like only visual changes, but they were very deliberate and have a big impact on the usability of the touch keyboard. For example, touch screen PCs are often used in mobile situations, we had to be very careful with the color and contrast of the key labels to make sure they are visible on a dimmed screen or in less than optimal light conditions.
The Windows 7 Touch Keyboard
One of the challenges with using a touch based keyboard is the lack of tactile feedback. Coupled with this is the fact that user’s fingers cover keys as they are being tapped. How does the user know that they hit the right key (or even hit a key at all) when they are covering the key with their finger? If a user has to switch focus between the text field and the touch keyboard for every key press they will quickly tire of typing using touch. We wanted to give the user a simple little nudge; “we heard you”, and “yes, you just hit this key”. Our solution was to let the released key have a short glow fade-out effect. This glow feedback gives the user a subtle confirmation that they hit the key they wanted (or not).
The keyboard now supports multitouch so you can press “ctrl+c” or “shift+a” etc. We also enabled key rollover, meaning you can press another key before you finger has lifted off the previous one – this enables a much more natural typing experience. Don’t worry, if you prefer the sticky modifier-key model, where you press “Ctrl” then press “c”, it is still supported.
Hi, my name is Jen and I’m a Program Manager on the Tablet PC Handwriting Recognition team. In our previous post you heard from my co-worker Yvonne about new handwriting recognizers. I’m going to talk about some of the new features that leverage or augment our recognizers including Predictive Text and Personalization as well as our new East Asian Recognizers.
One of our goals on the Tablet PC team is to make it as efficient as possible to enter text when using your keyboard is inconvenient or impractical. To achieve this we’ve made investments in the TIP, we’ve improved overall handwriting recognition accuracy, and we’re leveraging some of these same technologies to deliver Text Prediction on the soft keyboard. Text Prediction offers possible completions for the word being entered, and may offer suggestions for next words or phrases.
Text Prediction – Here I am trying to input the word “Microsoft” using the US English soft keyboard. After entering the first two letters “Mi”, the word “Microsoft” is proposed as the first option. I can then select this option and have the word “Microsoft” inserted into a document.
In Windows 7, we support Text Prediction for English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish using the soft keyboard as well as for Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese using handwriting in character by character mode. This section will focus on the Latin based languages; examples for Chinese can be found in the following section.
As we developed Text Prediction, our primary goal was to speed up user input. To do so, we had to make sure predictions were relevant. Our recognizers use a lexicon to improve recognition accuracy. The system lexicon ships with the recognizer and is a fancy name for a word list of the most commonly used words in a given language. Using this lexicon, the out-of-the-box predictions are good, but by including additional user-specific words (your words), we can improve accuracy significantly. This is where Text Harvesting comes in.
In Windows Vista, we shipped Text Harvesting (or Automatic Learning) for US English and UK English to improve handwriting recognition. In Windows 7, this feature will be available for all languages. It allows us to automatically extend the system lexicon based on the words you type when writing email. Text Harvesting is done on a per user basis, so your data is specific to you. From the results of Text Harvesting, we build a new lexicon containing your specific vocabulary and also increase the probability of words already you commonly use, this is use for both handwriting recognition and text prediction. The results are impressive, after augmenting the lexicon with your words and usage patterns, prediction can seem almost magical in its ability to predict which words you are going to enter next!
Windows 7 also includes support for Custom Dictionaries, these are specialized word lists that can be added to the system. Companies can develop domain specific dictionaries, such as for medicine, chemistry etc. and add them to the system – predicting acetaminophen is a lot faster than typing it!
Significant improvements were made to handwriting recognition on the four East Asian languages we support: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean and Japanese. For many people, handwriting is an efficient input method for these languages due to the large character set.
There are two input modes for East Asian handwriting: character by character mode (or box mode) and freestyle mode (or line mode). In box mode, you input a single character at a time into a fixed width box. In freestyle mode, you write the characters cursively on a line and do not have to concentrate on spacing. Which mode you chose depends on your preference; box mode is slightly more constrained but has text prediction and is more accurate, whereas line mode is closer to natural handwriting.
Traditional Chinese in Line Mode – The top pane contains the user’s writing and the bottom pane contains the recognized text.
In addition to core accuracy across all these languages improvements, we also use personalization to improve the user experience. One method of personalization is to adapt to how you write using the Shape Collector. The Shape Collector is a Wizard that allows you to train handwriting recognition on your individual handwriting style. For the four East Asian Languages, you can use the Shape Collector in a “troubleshooting” mode to improve recognition of a specific character or word, or to add a character or word that is unsupported.
We also learn as you write and correct mistakes. If you write a character and it is initially misrecognized, you can view the alternates list and select the character you intended. We will learn based on this action, and be more likely to provide that as the first choice the next time you write the character.
In Windows 7, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese also support Text Prediction in box mode. For these languages, Text Prediction is especially valuable as writing individual characters can be time consuming. The user writes in character by character mode and is provided with options to complete their word or phrase without having to write the whole thing. In the case below, the user wants to input 中华人民共和国 and only has to input the first two characters (中华) to get the desired text as a prediction. The gray words represent what has been entered and the black shows the predictions.
Notice in this example that Text Prediction is working on both characters together (中华) as well as just the second character (华). As with the other languages, Text Prediction also works with user-specific vocabulary. If a user inputs the same words multiple times, the recognizer will learn this behavior.
We have made significant improvements to Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, and Korean handwriting recognition since Windows Vista. These were based on improving our overall customer experience by improving accuracy and throughput. Our goal is to give customers a more natural way to input in these languages and a viable alternative to keyboard use.
Have you ever written a math paper in Word or performed calculations in Mathematica, and spent hours creating equations using a multitude of buttons or a complex linear format, thinking: “Oh, what I wouldn’t give for an easy-to-use input method?” Well, your wishes have just come true, in addition to improving handwriting in Windows 7, we have also invested in recognizing ink drawn math equations.
Hi, my name is Marko and I am the Program Manager for math recognition in Windows. Let me show you the Math Input Panel that provides you with the most natural and efficient way of math input: handwriting recognition. We have taken a completely new approach to this problem and raised math handwriting recognition to a whole new level in terms of functionality, performance and area coverage.
The Math Input Panel (or MIP) is designed to be used with a tablet pen on a Tablet PC, but you can use it with any input device such as a touchscreen, external digitizer or even a mouse. MIP outputs the recognition result via the clipboard in MathML format, a standardized mathematical markup language. Any equation you write and recognize in MIP reaches your destination application in a completely editable form – you can insert and edit the output as you would edit any text.
We spent a lot of time researching and identifying as many areas of math as possible and endless different math notations. The final result is a great coverage of high school and college level math, and of even more advanced areas.
Math Input Panel – Have you heard of the formula recognized in the example above? You haven’t J, well, it’s the Schwarz formula used in complex analysis!
Using MIP is really simple and straightforward. You write the well-formed math expression (this means that will not get recognized, whereas will) just as you do with pencil and paper and the recognizer takes over. The recognized math is shown in the preview area. As no recognizer is perfect, the great power of MIP lies in its ability to provide a fantastic correction experience (let’s be honest, sometimes even a human is not sure what has been written – you should see my handwriting!).
In case your handwritten math is misrecognized, you can select any part of it (symbols or whole sub-structures) and correct it either by selecting an alternate from a drop-down list or by rewriting part of the expression. Usually fixing one part of the equation automatically fixes the rest, in just one step.
Math Input Panel Correction
All you have to do now is tap Insert and you have just painlessly created an equation in your word-processing or computational program.
There are many other cool features like History, moving ink around, and dragging and dropping ink into MIP from other inking applications such as OneNote, all of which you can explore on your own. For software developers, the MIP can be embedded into your applications – check out the documentation on MSDN.
One of the points of feedback has been about disabling services and optionally installing components—we’ve talked about our goals in this area in previous posts. A key driver around wanting this type of control (but not the only driver) is a perception around performance and resource consumption of various platform components. A goal of Windows is to provide a reliable and consistent platform for developers—one where they can count on system services as being available, as well as a set of OS features that all customers have the potential to benefit from. At the same time we must do so in a way that is efficient in system resource usage—efficient enough so the benefit outweighs the cost. We recognize that some percentage of customers believe solving this equation can only be done manually—much like some believe that the best car performance can only come from manual transmission. For this post we’re going to look into the desktop search functionality from the perspective of the work we’re doing as both a broadly available platform component and to provide the rich end-user functionality, and also look at the engineering tradeoffs involved and techniques we use to build a great solution for everyone. Chris McConnell, a principal SDE on the Find and Organize team, contributed this post. --Steven
Are you one of those folks who believes that search indexing is the cause of your drive light flashing like mad? Do you believe this is the reason you’re getting skooled when playing first person shooters with friends? If so, this blog post is for you! The Find and Organize team owns the ‘Windows Search’ service, which we simply refer to as the ‘indexer’. A refrain that we hear from some Vista power-users is they want to disable the indexer because they believe it is eating up precious system resources on their PC, offering little in return. Per our telemetry data, at most about 1.5% of Vista users disable the indexing service, and we believe that this perception is one motivator for doing so.
The goal of this blog post is to clarify the role of the indexer and highlight some of the work that has been done to make sure the indexer uses system resources responsibly. Let’s start by talking about the function of the indexing service – what is it for? why should you leave it running?
Today’s PCs are filled with many rich types of files, such as documents, photos, music, videos, and so on. The number of files people have on their PC is growing at a rapid pace, making it harder and harder for them to find what they’re looking for, no matter how organized their files may (or may not) be. Increasingly, these files contain a good deal of structure, with metadata properties which describe their contents. A typical music file contains properties which describe the artist, album name, year of release, genre, duration of the song, and others which can be very useful when searching for music.
Although search indexing technologies date back to the early days of Windows, With Windows Vista Microsoft introduced a consumer operating system that brought this functionality to mainstream users more prominently. Prior to Vista, searching was pretty rudimentary – often a brute force crawl through the files on your machine, looking only at simple file properties such as file name, date modified, and size, or an application specific index of application specific data. Within Windows, a more comprehensive search option allowed you to also examine the contents of the files, but this wasn’t widely used. It was fairly basic functionality – it treated all files just the same, without the tapping in to the rich metadata properties available in the files.
In Windows Vista, the indexing service is on by default and includes expanded support in terms of the number of file formats and properties which are indexed. The indexer watches specific folders on your PC and catalogues their contents to facilitate fast searching of those files. When Windows indexes your music files, it also knows how to extract the music-specific properties which you’re most likely to search for. This enables support for more powerful searches and richer views over your files which wasn’t possible before. But this indexing doesn’t come free, and this is where engineering gets interesting. There’s a non-zero cost (in terms of system resources) that has to be paid to enable this functionality, and there are trade-offs involved in when and how you pay that price. There is nothing unique to indexing—all features have this cost-benefit tradeoff.
Many search solutions follow(ed) the traditional “grep” model which means every search will read all of the files you wanted to search. In this case, you paid with your time as you waited for the search to execute. The more files you searched, the longer you waited each time you searched. If you wanted to perform the same search again, you would “pay” again. And the value you were getting in return wasn’t very good since the search functionality wasn’t particularly powerful. With Windows Vista , the indexer tries to read all of your files before you search so that when you search, it’s generally quicker and more responsive. This requires the indexer to scan all of your files just once initially, and not each and every time you perform a search. If the file were to change, the indexer would receive a notification (a “push” event) so that it could read that file again. When the indexer reads a file, it extracts the pertinent information about the file to enable more powerful searches and views. The challenge is to do this quickly enough so that the index is always up to date and ready for you to search, but also doing so in such a way that it doesn’t impact the performance of your system in a negative way. This is always a balancing act requiring trade-offs, and there are a number of things the indexer does to maintain its standing as a good Windows citizen while working to make sure that the index is always up-to-date.
A lot of work has gone into making the indexer be a model Windows citizen. We’ve written an extensive whitepaper on the issue, but it’s worth covering some of the highlights here. First and foremost, the indexer only monitors certain folders, which limits the amount of work it needs to do to just those files that you’re most likely to search. The indexer also “backs off” when you are actively using your PC. It indexes files more slowly, or stops entirely depending on the level of activity on the PC. When the indexer is reading files it uses low priority I/O and CPU and immediately releases the file if another application needs access.
It’s critical that we get all of these issues right for the indexer, because it’s not only important for the features that our team builds (like Windows Search), but it’s important to the Windows platform as a whole. There are a host of applications which require the ability to search file contents on the PC. Imagine if each one of those applications built their own version of the indexer! Even if all of these applications did a great job, there will be a lot of unnecessary and redundant activity happening on your PC. Every time you saved one of your documents there will be a flurry of activity as these different indexers rushed to read the new version. To combat that, the indexer is designed to do this work for any application which might choose to use it and provide an open platform and API with flexibility and extensibility for developers. The API designed to be flexible enough to meet needs across the Windows ecosystem. Out of the box, the indexer has knowledge of about 200 common file types, cataloging nearly 400 different properties by default. And there is support for applications to add new file types and properties at any time. Applications can also add support for indexing of data types that aren’t file-based at all, like your e-mail. Just a few of the applications that are leveraging the indexer today are Microsoft Office Outlook and OneNote, Lotus Notes, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Internet Explorer 8, and Google Desktop Search. As with all extensible systems, developers often find creative uses for components for the system services. One example of this is the way the Tablet PC components leverage the index contents to improve handwriting accuracy.
We’re constantly working to improve the indexer’s performance and reliability. Version 3 shipped in Windows Vista. Major improvements in this version included:
We’ve already released Windows Search version 4 as an enhancement to either Windows XP or Vista which goes even further in terms of performance and stability improvements, such as:
And we’ve done even more to improve performance and reliability for the indexer in Windows 7 which you’ll soon see at the PDC. If you still believe that the indexer is giving you trouble, we’ve got a few things for you to try:
If you feel as though your system is slow, and you suspect the indexer is the culprit, watch the gadget as you work with your PC. Is the number of indexed items changing significantly when you’re experiencing problems? If you pause the indexer, does your system recover? We’re always looking to make our search experience better, so if you are still running into issues, we want to hear about them. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find and Organize
We’re busy going through tons of telemetry from the many people that have downloaded and installed the Windows 7 beta around the world. We’re super excited to see the excitement around kicking the tires. Since most folks on the beta are well-versed in the hardware they use and very tuned into the choices they make, we’ve received a few questions about the Windows Experience Index (WEI) in Windows 7 and how that has been changed and improved in Windows 7 to take into account new hardware available for each of the major classes in the metric. In this post Michael Fortin returns to dive into the engineering details of the WEI.
The WEI was introduced in Windows Vista to provide one means across PCs to measure the relative performance of key hardware components. Like any index or benchmark, it is best used as a relative measure and should not be used to compare one measure to another. Unlike many other measures, the WEI merely measures the relative capability of components. The WEI only runs for a short time and does not measure the interactions of components under a software load, but rather characteristics or your hardware. As such it does not (nor cannot) measure how a system will perform under the your own usage scenarios. Thus the WEI does not measure performance of a system, but merely the relative hardware capabilities when running Windows 7.
We do want to caution folks in trying to generalize an “absolute” WEI as necessary for a given individual. We each have different tolerances or more importantly expectations for how a PC should perform and the same WEI might mean very different things to different individuals. To personalize this, I do about 90% of my work on a PC with a WEI of 2.0, primarily driven by the relatively low score for the gaming graphics component on my very low cost laptop. I run Outlook (with ~2GB of email), Internet Explorer (with a dozen tabs), Excel (with longs list of people on the development team), PowerPoint, Messenger (with video), and often I am running one of several LOB applications written in .NET. I feel with this type of workload and a PC with Windows 7 and that WEI my own brain and fingers continues to be my “bottleneck”. At the other end of the spectrum is my holiday gift machine which is a 25” all-in-one with a WEI of 5.1 (though still limited by gaming graphics, with subscores of 7.2, 7.2, 6.2, 5.1, 5.9). This machine runs Windows 7 64-bit and I definitely don’t keep it very busy even though I run MediaCenter in a window all the time, have a bunch of desktop gadgets, and run the PC as our print server (I use about 25% of available RAM and the CPU almost never gets above 10%).
The overall Windows Experience Index (WEI) is defined to be the lowest of the five top-level WEI subscores, where each subscore is computed using a set of rules and a suite of system assessment tests. The five areas scored in Windows 7 are the same as they were in Vista and include:
Though the scoring areas are the same, the ranges have changed. In Vista, the WEI scores ranged from 1.0 to 5.9. In Windows 7, the range has been extended upward to 7.9. The scoring rules for devices have also changed from Vista to reflect experience and feedback comparing closely rated devices with differing quality of actual use (i.e. to make the rating more indicative of actual use.) We know during the beta some folks have noticed that the score changed (relative to Vista) for one or more components in their system and this tuning, which we will describe here, is responsible for the change.
For a given score range, we hope our customers will be able to utilize some general guidelines to help understand the experiences a particular PC can be expected to deliver well, relatively speaking. These Vista-era general guidelines for systems in the 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 ranges still apply to Windows 7. But, as noted above, Windows 7 has added levels 6.0 and 7.0; meaning 7.9 is the maximum score possible. These new levels were designed to capture the rather substantial improvements we are seeing in key technologies as they enter the mainstream, such as solid state disks, multi-core processors, and higher end graphics adapters. Additionally, the amount of memory in a system is a determining factor.
For these new levels, we’re working to add guidelines for each level. As an example for gaming users, we expect systems with gaming graphics scores in the 6.0 to 6.9 range to support DX10 graphics and deliver good frames rates at typical screen resolutions (like 40-50 frames per second at 1280x1024). In the range of 7.0 to 7.9, we would expect higher frame rates at even higher screen resolutions. Obviously, the specifics of each game have much to do with this and the WEI scores are also meant to help game developers decide how best to scale their experience on a given system. Graphics is an area where there is both the widest variety of scores readily available in hardwaren and also the widest breadth of expectations. The extremes at which CAD, HD video, photography, and gamers push graphics compared to the average business user or a consumer (doing many of these same things as an avocation rather than vocation) is significant.
Of course, adding new levels doesn’t explain why a Vista system or component that used to score 4.0 or higher is now obtaining a score of 2.9. In most cases, large score drops will be due to the addition of some new disk tests in Windows 7 as that is where we’ve seen both interesting real world learning and substantial changes in the hardware landscape.
With respect to disk scores, as discussed in our recent post on Windows Performance, we’ve been developing a comprehensive performance feedback loop for quite some time. With that loop, we’ve been able to capture thousands of detailed traces covering periods of time where the computer’s current user indicated an application, or Windows, was experiencing severe responsiveness problems. In analyzing these traces we saw a connection to disk I/O and we often found typical 4KB disk reads to take longer than expected, much, much longer in fact (10x to 30x). Instead of taking 10s of milliseconds to complete, we’d often find sequences where individual disk reads took many hundreds of milliseconds to finish. When sequences of these accumulate, higher level application responsiveness can suffer dramatically.
With the problem recognized, we synthesized many of the I/O sequences and undertook a large study on many, many disk drives, including solid state drives. While we did find a good number of drives to be excellent, we unfortunately also found many to have significant challenges under this type of load, which based on telemetry is rather common. In particular, we found the first generation of solid state drives to be broadly challenged when confronted with these commonly seen client I/O sequences.
An example problematic sequence consists of a series of sequential and random I/Os intermixed with one or more flushes. During these sequences, many of the random writes complete in unrealistically short periods of time (say 500 microseconds). Very short I/O completion times indicate caching; the actual work of moving the bits to spinning media, or to flash cells, is postponed. After a period of returning success very quickly, a backlog of deferred work is built up. What happens next is different from drive to drive. Some drives continue to consistently respond to reads as expected, no matter the earlier issued and postponed writes/flushes, which yields good performance and no perceived problems for the person using the PC. Some drives, however, reads are often held off for very lengthy periods as the drives apparently attempt to clear their backlog of work and this results in a perceived “blocking” state or almost a “locked system”. To validate this, on some systems, we replaced poor performing disks with known good disks and observed dramatically improved performance. In a few cases, updating the drive’s firmware was sufficient to very noticeably improve responsiveness.
To reflect this real world learning, in the Windows 7 Beta code, we have capped scores for drives which appear to exhibit the problematic behavior (during the scoring) and are using our feedback system to send back information to us to further evaluate these results. Scores of 1.9, 2.0, 2.9 and 3.0 for the system disk are possible because of our current capping rules. Internally, we feel confident in the beta disk assessment and these caps based on the data we have observed so far. Of course, we expect to learn from data coming from the broader beta population and from feedback and conversations we have with drive manufacturers.
For those obtaining low disk scores but are otherwise satisfied with the performance, we aren’t recommending any action (Of course the WEI is not a tool to recommend hardware changes of any kind). It is entirely possible that the sequence of I/Os being issued for your common workload and applications isn’t encountering the issues we are noting. As we’ve said, the WEI is a metric but only you can apply that metric to your computing needs.
Earlier, I made note of the fact that our new levels, 6 and 7, were added to recognize the improved experiences one might have with newer hardware, particularly SSDs, graphics adapters, and multi-core processors. With respect to SSDs, the focus of the newer tests is on random I/O rates and their avoidance of the long latency issues noted above. As a note, the tests don’t specifically check to see if the underlying storage device is an SSD or not. We run them no matter the device type and any device capable of sustaining very high random I/O rates will score well.
For graphics adapters, both DX9 and DX10 assessments can be run now. In Vista, the tests were specific to DX9. To obtain scores in the 6 or 7 ranges, a graphics adapter must obtain very good performance scores, support DX10 and the driver must be a WDDM 1.1 driver (which you might have noticed are being downloaded in beta during the Windows 7 beta). For WDDM 1.0 drivers, only the DX9 assessments will be run, thus capping the overall score at 5.9.
For multi-core processors, both single threaded and multi-threaded scenarios are run. With levels 6 and 7, we aim to indicate that these systems will be rarely CPU bound for typical use and quite suitable for demanding processing tasks and multi-tasking. As examples, we anticipate many quad core processors will be able to score in the high 6 to low 7 ranges, and 8 core systems to be able to approach 7.9. The scoring has taken into account the very latest micro-processors available.
For many key hardware partners, we’ve of course made available additional details on the changes and why they were made. We continue to actively work with them to incorporate appropriate feedback.