What is Windows?

30/03/2013

I have been meaning to write about Windows 8 for a while now and as the discussion starts around Windows “Blue” I thought it is a good time to reflect a little about Windows 8.

I think the biggest misconception among people and tech journalist is the distinction between Windows (the platform) and Windows the products build from that platform and Graphical interfaces that we use in those products to interact with Windows. I think if everyone just step back a moment and remember these things, we might be in a far better position to understand what is happening going forward.

Windows firstly is a platform that consists of a Kernel (abstraction layer between hardware and software, currently 6.2 in Windows 8) with low level runtimes and API’s associated with it and some core key components, like a network stack and a driver stack. That is in its essence Windows!

Now, prior to Windows 8, the runtimes was called Win32 (an evolution of Win16). Every application known to Windows was build using these. They were presented in a Graphical User interface called the Desktop. The Desktop really is just a tablecloth; the table is Windows (Kernel and runtimes). You still with me?

The Desktop allowed us to interact with Windows, to run applications on top of Windows, configure Windows in a way that is simple, easy and non-technical (I am being generous).

In Windows 8, the table that is Windows got expanded. We still have Win32 runtimes from previous Windows, but added is a new set of runtimes called WinRT. These I would like to think of like the in-laws, they don’t talk to the rest and think they are better, but they are civil and they sit around the same table and they are still the same family. These set of runtimes have their own graphical user interface and their own ways to interact and configure Windows, called the Start screen and Charms.

Now that we are clear as to what is Windows (the platform), what is runtimes (Win32 and WinRT) and what is Graphical user interfaces (Desktop and Start Screen, charms) we can look at this and say WOW, what a mess and Microsoft kindly called this a product and named it Windows 8.

So how is Microsoft evolving this mess forward with Windows Blue / Next / 9. Firstly, it is consolidating the interface to configure Windows. It is duplicating the Control panel (Desktop) functions in the PC settings (Start and Charms). I am not sure if they will remove Control panel in Blue already, but I suspect you might find that some of the duplication being removed going forward, with PC settings remaining as the sole way of configuring Windows.

At some stage I think it is possible that Microsoft could / might remove the Desktop completely. (Now please breath) Desktop is just a user interface. The runtimes to make your application run will still be there (it is Win32 that makes your applications sing, not the desktop). One way of doing this will be to ring-fence / fortify Win32 runtimes. Either by UAC every time you run an application or once when you authorise it to run. This way you can negate the negative impact of unwelcome Win32 application (malware). Full screen applications are the easiest, since they run full screen already. For windowed applications they could easily use the Start screen background and tattoo as the back ground for the application to run. It is one way to eliminate the confusion that the duel nature of Windows 8. Doing this, they could make these application basically run just like WinRT applications, each one on their own (just like a virtual machine) without the penalties of virtualisation as these application will still be native. You might even be able to save their state and suspend them.

Or they could choose to maintain the Desktop interface going forward, run all your Win32 applications like you do today, but that environment will be nothing more than just a way to present your legacy applications.

One can also dream and maybe they enable to new “Desktop” where both WinRT and Win32 applications run side by side windowed or full screen as needed. One can dream I said!

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Windows Vista – People have realy short memories

04/07/2009

Someone told a person at the office who asked for advice on a new laptop to just ask for Windows XP, because Vista is junk. I asked him then, when did he try Windows Vista? His answer, I was suspecting was either launch or shortly after the launch. It turned out that he got a free upgrade with his computer that be bought close to launch of Vista.

Well, here is the honest truth…there is nothing wrong today with Windows Vista. Yes, at launch, it was a different story…but today, it runs smoothly, it works! Does it use more memory than Windows XP, yes it does. But so did XP over 2000 and 2000 over 98 and 98 over 95…Seeing a pattern…it is called progress! Besides, 2 Gb of RAM cost the same as 512 megs RAM that you needed to get XP to fly back in 2001 compared to the 256 needed for 98…

My point is this, Windows Vista got a lot of flak, some deserved, some severely undeserved. Let’s look back and let’s compare notes shall we? As a friend pointed out, I am getting old…so I can remember that far back…

When Windows 2000 launched in early 2000, Microsoft had trouble to sell it to business. They just added plug and play to the NT stack and things was not so rosy at launch. All drivers had to be rewritten to work with Windows 2000. It was buggy and it had issues. (Windows 2000 got 4 service packs.) Yet it became the defacto standard for business computing in the early 2000’s. 18 months later, enter Windows XP. The successor to 2000, aimed at business and home users.

Windows XP was horrible. I told a friend over my dead body! I am sticking to Windows 98. Windows XP RAM requirement was too high for games plus the drivers was just too lacking. Plus most of my games and older hardware was not working. Does this sound familiar?

When SP1 for XP rolled out and they have fixed compatibility, I dual booted. Truth is; I never looked back. I upgraded memory, because it got cheaper and the games at that time needed it.

By 2004, SP2 rolls out. Let’s face it, if Microsoft was Apple it was a new Operating system, and it cost money. People tend to forget how big a change SP2 was. It added a truckload of features to an already 3 year old operating system…gave it a second live.

It is also in 2004 that the world plus dog started to move in the business world to Windows XP.

I just want to point out here that the drivers of Windows 2000, worked in some circumstances in Windows XP, but in general new drivers was required…also that Windows 2000 was NT 5.0 and Windows XP was 5.1 and later 5.2…

Windows Vista, NT 6.0, was a big change, as big as between NT4.0 and Windows 2000. Huge! Microsoft did fairly well, some drivers of Windows XP actually worked in Vista and others needed a rewrite. But my point being here is that Vista was in no worst shape that Windows XP was on launch.

You see, you have to compare the move to Vista from Windows XP to the move from Windows 98 to XP. A lot of old hardware that worked in Windows 98 was not working in Windows XP, the drivers was slower under Windows XP. The OS used twice the amount of RAM…

Was Vista thus truly so bad? Remember the compatibility issues of Windows XP compared to Windows 98 before SP1? Remember the RAM requirement and the fact that some hardware never did work in Windows XP?

My question today is what about now? On the eve of the already very popular successor’s launch, how well does it actually stack up against Windows XP? If you gave me a copy of Vista today with SP2 loaded and current drivers and you give me Windows XP, same hardware, same programs, I will probably pick Vista. It is just a fact, period.

Microsoft operating systems is like a good pasta sauce, it gets better with time…

My final words to Windows Vista is sonny, you are not as bad as everyone is saying, in fact, you come from a good family tree, you added to the gene pool in a positive way. Just look to your offspring, Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7… Nothing wrong with that gene pool or blood line!

Viva Windows Vista, you are dead long before you had a change to truly shine, but take solace in the fact that your successor is off to a solid start thanks mainly to your efforts and pioneer work.


Windows 8: A page out of Windows 95’s book

17/06/2009

You have to remember that Microsoft is HUGE! They are under extreme scrutiny. Because of this, they move with baby steps…

When the first Xbox shipped a friend of mine told me how Microsoft is getting creamed in the market by the Playstation 2. How the Xbox was such a failure. I listen to him going on and on and then I smirked and told him this: “The Xbox is the only device connected to the internet and your TV. It is not about the games, it is about where the Xbox is located. It is in your living room, connected to your TV! Microsoft has taken the first step towards its future, delivering your entertainment live to you, via its network and proprietary technology to your TV via their set-top box.” He laughed at me….called me crazy.

Well, we are half way through this console cycle allegedly…am I still crazy?

Here I am typing this post in Windows 7 RC 64bit and I am thinking again. Thinking of all the beta testers moaning about how different this release cycle has been from times of old. One Beta, one RC, little to no time to sent Microsoft feedback, to impact the development. Yes, they are right, this is a very different Windows release, but why are they surprised?

Let’s see: New head of Windows development, check. New Chief Architect, check. New CEO, check. People are surprised that things are different? Why?

There are two clues inside Windows 7 that tells us a little about Windows 8 and beyond…

IE 8 is a program again:
Huh? Yes, it is a program again. You see for years Microsoft told the world that IE is a systems component, one with which the operating system could not do without. Then with Windows Vista, Microsoft consolidated the network stack into one. Before then, Internet traffic, network traffic and wireless traffic all had their separate stacks. With Vista, that went out the window. This was the first piece in the unhinging of IE from the OS.

You see the biggest downside of building IE into Windows is the gaping security holes it brought with it. With Vista the goal was security. Best way to do that was to unify the network stack behind a single line of defense. It has broken every wireless driver out there in the process, but it has improved security 100 times. This little move was also the foundation of the decoupling of IE. You see IE 7 had an enhanced protection state under Vista, because under Vista, it was more like a program than a system component. Baby steps…with IE 8 this transition is complete.

A week ago Microsoft told the world plus dog that it is not shipping IE 8 bundled into Windows 7 in Europe…Why, because IE 8 is just a program, one that is free of Windows. One that can be much easier reengineered and updated. One that is no longer tied to the Windows cycle or thinking of old, a program free, a program that once again has the legs to run and catch up to the pack, hell one that can even lead the pack…

Windows XP mode is the most important experiment in the history of software
What is the biggest complaint levelled at Windows? Windows is bloated, a system hog. True, the problem of being everything for everyone and 20 years worth of backwards compatibility. Let’s face it, which is what makes Windows so great, is also its single biggest liability.

Hello Windows XP Mode, only for business this time round, but a massive experiment for something on a far larger scale. If Microsoft pulls this off, it will be the foundation of the solution of the future.

I will bet you top dollar that the systems engineers at Microsoft would love to build a truly new operating system, one designed for the next decade. The problem, they can’t. Say it, backwards compatibility!

What is the biggest roadblock in Windows Vista roll out? Legacy and custom written software that only works in Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6, so, Windows XP mode! For Windows 7, they tell businesses, see, your apps run natively seamless inside Windows 7, because we have build Windows XP right into it. Not just some of it, all of it! It even integrates into your Start menu. Just buy selective Intel processors or any AMD CPU’s and invest in some RAM and Voila! No more need to complain or cling to Windows XP!

But let’s take this as baby step one. What if they blur the lines between Virtual PC and Windows? What if they add DirectX 9 support? Suddenly, they don’t need compatibility modes at all! Suddenly the overhead carried within the OS is much less…Suddenly the idea of the next Windows being truly next generation seems far easier to achieve than previously thought…Suddenly that little move to buy the best Virtual PC vendor out there is no longer about server software and keeping up with the Jones’s …but desktop software and the future of Windows.

You know what? I am sounding crazy again, just as loony as telling a friend that the Xbox is all about delivering entertainment to your living room via the Microsoft device attached to your TV…

So what is my Windows 8 prediction? 64 bit only. Office 2010 is coming in a 64bit version with a reason, it is Microsoft’s cue to let everyone know, it’s time. Make the switch; we are moving our single biggest important piece of software to 64bit. 100% backwards compatibility via Virtualised technology instead of compatibility modes and a next generation Internet Browser, which is not based on IE 8, but brand new technology!

To end this fairy tale…Why the heading; A page out of Windows 95’s book? Well simple, the tag line for Windows 95 was it is all about the platform! Well Windows 7 is the first Operating System in 14 years from Microsoft that shows signs of that old philosophy again. I will venture a guess now and say that Windows 8: IT IS ALL ABOUT THE PLATFORM!


IE 8: Why the Europeans is going MAD!

16/06/2009

Let me start by saying that I am just an average Joe that started my computer life in good old DOS and I have a passion for all things computer and Windows related, yes, I am a Windows PC, and love it!

The last week Microsoft has made some big headlines about the removal of Internet Explorer 8 from Windows 7 in Europe.

Microsoft is firstly a monopoly. Been convicted as such multiple times, USA, Europe, Korea and even Russia I think. This is important to remember, because of all this has put them under huge scrutiny, more than most companies and some will argue, including me, with reason.

The second thing to remember is that Microsoft have not always been a good corporate citizen…They have done things in their long history that have let people to mistrust them and has made it easy to pick on them. No one likes a bully after all.

But here is the bottom line: bundling Internet Explorer is irrelevant today. This is what the EU has gotten wrong.

Microsoft beat Netscape by bundling IE, fact. They used their power and wide spread adoptability of IE thanks to Windows 95B and onwards to promote ActiveX which spawned a generation of web tech based on it. IE 5 and 6 was also very good and free, compared to that of Netscape. Was that anticompetitive? Hell yes!

So does that mean that because Microsoft kept on bundling IE that there is no market for any other browser? Hell no! But that is what Opera and the mad people at the EU would like us to believe.

Look, I am not justifying Microsoft at all, but come on. Microsoft biggest mistake it made was its own complacency. The time between IE 6 and IE7 was years, YEARS! In that time a little open source outfit stole the march on them. Firefox did all that, despite the bundling of the browser. Was that all the Linux users that has driven their market share, no, it was Windows users. People like me that liked the small, no thrills and faster browser. The world of the web has moved on and the big MS have been asleep at the wheel. ActiveX have become irrelevant for most sites, JAVA rules.

There is no second time around for Microsoft; they can’t get back what they had. If they could develop a killer proprietary tech to steel back the dominance from JAVA, they will be under such pressure to make it open it is not funny. It is the nature of the web today.

Their other problem is their own browser. The web is driven by JAVA and various other open web 2.0 standards. IE is optimised for ActiveX, not JAVA. Ultimately, that is there biggest Achilles heel. It is all about compliance to the standard today. The more they try, the more they break sites build for IE. It is the ultimate catch 22. IE 7 and 8 is steps in the right direction, but it is steps to keep up, not to steps to lead the pack!

Anyone that has looked at web share stats will tell you, IE is still bleeding market share. IE 7 and 8 has stopped some of the bleeding, but the rest is still gaining…and it is no longer only Firefox…there is Chrome, even Safari biting.

So please, EU, back off. The market is taken care of this, it don’t need regulation…