James Governor's Monkchips

Speed is a Feature – Further Thoughts on Windows 8

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I noticed a tweet from Get Satisfaction marketing dude Jeff Nolan recently about the Google advantage – namely speed as a feature = which reminded me of a post of the same name a couple of years ago from my founding partner Stephen O’Grady, which led to me thinking about the performance engineering work Microsoft demonstrated at its Build developer conference: laptops that resume from suspend before the user has even got the lid open, for example, or the smooth, snappy scrolling in Microsoft’s new touch-based Metro user interface.

One of the ways Microsoft has made Windows 8 faster is a strong focus on OS refactoring. Smaller, with fewer interdependencies generally means faster, and Windows 8 can run on 281 Mb, about half what Windows 7 demands. Arguably Microsoft is still in the process of refactoring Windows Vista, which has been on the treadmill since its launch, and the code base is finally looking fairly toned, with a whole new wardrobe to match. Windows 7 was a big step forward from Vista in performance, and Windows 8 looks like it will be another. Its harder to make something complex simple than to make something simple complex. Well done Microsoft for pulling it off – assuming that Windows 8 moves smoothly through beta-testing into GA. Not like Longhorn in other words.

One of the things that most impresses me about Windows 7 is how well it runs on a 5 year old Thinkpad – with 3Gb of RAM and an early dual core Intel chip. On the Thinkpad x220 I am currently running, with SSD, Windows 7 is really snappy.

Microsoft says we won’t need new hardware to run Windows 8, which I think is correct, but the new ultraslim laptops coming from Microsoft partners are looking very nice indeed. And of course there is the tablet form factor for Windows 8, which Microsoft and OEMs are hoping turns into a wave.

System performance is a function of a number of variables, such as storage, processing, memory, I/O and so on.

Microsoft arch competitor Apple uses its supply chain to obtain the latest and fastest systems components and uses them to great effect in the integrated systems it builds. Apple for example began to standardise on SSD drives early, because of the performance bump.

Apple is also very clever about using UI elements to foster a perception of performance – Matt Biddulph let me in on this trick, which apparently began at while Steve Jobs was at NeXT – so while the user is appreciating a UI transition, the system has a precious few microseconds to complete a job in the background, before it is magically “done”. Apple used this approach to great effect on the iPhone.

The performance engineering job for Microsoft is arguably a lot harder than for Apple  – it has to perform across a wide range of hardware, much of it pretty crappy. It also needs to collaborate with partners, unlike Apple.

Bottom line – speed is a feature, and Microsoft seems to have got religion. Competition really is a good thing.


disclosure: Microsoft is a client, and paid my T&E to BUILD.


  1. It’s crazy slow for me in VirtualBox though. Seems that for a dev release, you should focus on how devs will use it: virtualization. Their impression is going to determine initial adoption and app development by release time.

  2. what? they were going to optimise for virtual box? i am not so sure about that.

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