Windows Vista is the High School Slut

In most high schools, there is a girl labeled simply as “the slut”.  This is the girl that everyone knows is a total slut—her reputation precedes her.

But every once in a while, someone discovers that a girl’s reputation is completely unfounded.  You actually get to know “the slut” and discover that the rumors all derive from some mean comments that one guy said about her several years ago.  (Ironically, likely because her behavior is the opposite of what the boy claims).

What’s interesting is how fast a negative impression can spread, whether it’s true or not.  In the case of the slut, word spreads quickly and pretty soon everyone simply labels her as “the slut”, without questioning where the label came from.  Even people who have never met her don’t bother to question the label.  It’s also not a reputation that she can hope to overturn, short of moving to a new school or changing her name.  People who get to know her might realize how untrue the label is.  But the majority of the school continues to think of her as the slut, because that’s what everyone says.

Windows Vista as the Slut

In the world of PC-based operating systems, Windows Vista is the slut.

Vista’s reputation has been trashed by bloggers, technical reviewers and pundits all over the web.  The bad impression is so pervasive that even the non-technical guy at the water cooler admits that he just special-ordered a PC with Windows XP because “Vista sucks”.  Even Google agrees with his assessment—the phrase “vista sucks” will net you 210,000 results, while “xp sucks” will only turn up 16,100.

Does Vista really suck?  If not, how did it get such a horrible reputation?

Vista does not suck.  In fact, many people believe that it works even better than Windows XP.  I’ve been running Vista on a number of machines for well over a year now and I haven’t had a single problem with it.  Every piece of software I’ve ever installed has worked fine.  Every hardware device I’ve hooked up to it has also worked fine.  The user experience is just prettier, cleaner, and more efficient than Windows XP.  Performance has been fine—it actually doesn’t seem to degrade over time like Windows XP used to, as you install more and more applications.  If you don’t believe me, go read some in-depth reviews done by people like Paul Thurrott and his Windows SuperSite.

Like the high school slut, Vista got her bad reputation mostly through word-of-mouth—and because people delight in sharing negative information.  Some high profile bloggers posted some very negative reviews when it first came out, and other bloggers wrote posts of their own, merely repeating the same bad impressions.  Before long, everyone’s bad impression of Vista was cemented, despite the fact that many people harshly critical of Vista had never installed or used it in any meaningful way.

That’s not to say that Vista didn’t have some problems when it was first released.  Many hardware vendors failed to write new drivers, so their older hardware just didn’t work with Vista.  If people tried upgrading an older system, or tried using older peripherals with Vista, they found that the hardware didn’t work.

The problem with drivers is really the fault of the hardware vendors, rather than Microsoft’s fault.  For these vendors, writing new drivers for old hardware is a low priority.  They’d much rather sell you new hardware (which did work with Vista) for your new machine.  This is also nothing new—we saw exactly the same thing with Windows XP when it first released, in that the older Windows NT drivers didn’t work.

The driver problems are old news, though.  These days, it’s hard to find a piece of hardware built in the past few years that doesn’t just work when you plug it into a Vista machine.

Should You Be Using Vista?

Like the slut, Vista’s reputation clears up completely once you get to know her.  Once you start using Vista on a regular basis, you start wondering what all the fuss is about.  And you find it hard to go back to Windows XP.

So should you use Vista?  If you’re buying a new machine, the answer is—absolutely, yes.  You’ll find that everything will just work, both hardware and software.  Unless you’re buying a really low-end machine, the performance will be just fine.  Just shoot for at least 1GB RAM (2GB is even better) and at least 2 GHz dual-core processor.  (You can get a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with 2GHz dual-core and 3GB RAM for under $500).

What about if you’re running an older machine—should you upgrade to Vista?  The simple answer is—no.  If you have an older machine running Windows XP and you’re happy with it, stick with it.  There’s no compelling reason to jump to Vista.  And—all other things being equal—Vista will perform more slowly than XP.  This has always been true.  If you had installed XP on your old Windows 98 box, it would have been pretty slow.  The truth is that hardware gets faster and faster all the time and newer versions of Windows take advantage of those performance gains.  That’s a good thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If we agree that Vista’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished, is there anything to be done about it?

No.

At this point, too many bad things have been said about Vista.  The damage has been done and it will never recover its reputation.

So, like the high school slut, Vista is doing the only thing it can do.  It’s moving, changing its name, making a new start.  Sometime later this year it will surface again—and we’ll be calling it “Windows 7”.

Advertisements

Session – Windows 7: Unlocking the GPU with Direct3D

PDC 2008, Day #4, Session #3, 1 hr 15 mins

Allison Klein

I jumped off the Azure track (starting to be a bit repetitive) and next went to a session focused on Direct3D.

Despite the title, this session really had nothing to do with Windows 7, other than the fact that it talked a  lot about Direct3D 11, which will be included in Windows 7 and available for Windows Vista.

Direct3D 10

Direct3D 10 is the currently shipping version, and supported by most (all?) modern video cards, as well as integrated graphics chips.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think that Direct3D 10 shipped out-of-the-box with Windows Vista.  It is also available for Windows XP.

Allison spent about half of the talk going through things that are different in Direct3D 10, as compared with Direct3D 9.

I’m not inclined to rehash all of the details.  (I’ll include a link to Allison’s slide deck when it is available).

The main takeaway was that it’s very much worth programming to the v10 API, as opposed to the v9 API.  Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Much more consistent behavior, across devices
  • Cleaner API
  • Elimination of large CAPS (device capability) matrix, for a more consistent experience across devices
  • Built-in driver that allows D3D10 to talk to D3D9 hardware
  • Addition of WARP 10 software rasterizer, to support devices that don’t support WDDM directly.  This is actually quite a bit faster than earlier software-only implementations

Direct3D 11

In the second half of her talk, Allison talked about the advances coming in Direct3D 11.  She mentioned that D3D11 will ship with Windows 7 and also be available for Windows Vista.

Again, the details are probably more appropriate for a game developer.  (See the slide deck).  But the high level points are:

  • Direct3D 11 is a strict superset of 10—there are no changes to existing 10 features
  • Better support for character authoring, for denser meshes and more detailed characters
  • Addition of tessellation to the rendering pipeline, for better performance and quality
  • Much more scalable multi-threading support.
    • Much more flexibility in what can be distributed across threads
  • Dynamically linking in custom shaders
  • Introduction of object-oriented features (interfaces/classes) to HLSL
  • New block compression
  • Direct3D11 will be available in the Nov 2008 SDK

Futures

Finally, Allison touched briefly on some future directions that the Direct3D is thinking about.

The main topic that she talked about here was in potentially using the GPU to perform highly parallel general purpose compute intensive tasks.  The developer would use HLSL to write a “compute shader”, which would then get sent to the GPU to do the work.  As an example, she talked about using this mechanism for post-processing of an image.

Keynote #2 – Ozzie, Sinofsky, Guthrie, Treadwell

PDC 2008, Day #2, Keynote #2, 2 hrs

Ray Ozzie, Steven Sinofsky, Scott Guthrie, David Treadwell

Wow.  In contrast to yesterday’s keynote, where Windows Azure was launched, today’s keynote was the kind of edge-of-your-seat collection of product announcements that explain why people shell out $1,000+ to come to PDC.  The keynote was a 2-hr extravaganza of non-stop announcements and demos.

In short, we got a good dose of Windows 7, as well as new tools in .NET 3.5 SP1, Visual Studio 2008 SP1 and the future release of Visual Studio 2010.  Oh yeah—and an intro to Office 14, with online web-based versions of all of your favorite Office apps.

Not to mention a new Paint applet with a ribbon interface.  Really.

Ray Ozzie Opening

The keynote started once again today with Ray Ozzie, reminding us of what was announced yesterday—the Azure Services Platform.

Ray pointed out that while yesterday focused on the back-end, today’s keynote would focus on the front-end: new features and technologies from a user’s perspective.

He pointed out that the desktop-based PC and the internet are still two completely separate world.  The PC is where we sit when running high-performance close-to-the-metal applications.  And the web is how we access the rest of the world, finding and accessing other people and information.

Ray also talked about the phone being the third main device where people spend their time.  It’s always with us, so can respond to our spontaneous need for information.

The goal for Microsoft, of course, is that applications try to span all three of these devices—the desktop PC, the web, and the phone.  The apps that can do this, says Ozzie, will deliver the greatest value.

It’s no surprise either that Ray mentioned Microsoft development tools as providing the best platform for developing these apps that will span the desktop/web/phone silos.

Finally, Ray positioned Windows 7 as being the best platform for users, since we straddle these three worlds.

Steven Sinofsky

Next up was Steven Sinofsky,Senior VP for Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group at Microsoft. Steven’s part of the keynote was to introduce Windows 7.  Here are a couple of tidbits:

  • Windows 7 now in pre-beta
  • Today’s pre-beta represents “M3”—a feature-complete milestone on the way to Beta and eventual RTM.  (The progression is M1/M2/M3/M4/Beta)
  • The beta will come out early in 2009
  • Release still targeted at 3-yrs after the RTM of Vista, putting it at November of 2009
  • Server 2008 R2 is also in pre-beta, sharing its kernel with Windows 7

Steven mentioned three warm-fuzzies that Windows 7 would focus on:

  • Focus on the personal experience
  • Focus on connecting devices
  • Focus on bringing functionality to developers

Julie Larson-Green — Windows 7 Demo

Next up was Julie Larson-Green, Corporate VP, Windows Experience.  She took a spin through Windows 7 and showed off a number of the new features and capabilities.

New taskbar

  • Combines Alt-Tab for task switching, current taskbar, and current quick launch
  • Taskbar includes icons for running apps, as well as non-running (icons to launch apps)
  • Can even switch between IE tabs from the taskbar, or close tabs
  • Can close apps directly from the taskbar
  • Can access app’s MRU lists from the taskbar (recent files)
  • Can drag/dock windows on desktop, so that they quickly take exactly half available real estate

Windows Explorer

  • New Libraries section
    • A library is a virtual folder, providing access to one or more physical folders
    • Improved search within a library, i.e. across a subset of folders

Home networking

  • Automatic networking configuration when you plug a machine in, connecting to new “Homegroup”
  • Automatic configuration of shared resources, like printers
  • Can search across entire Homegroup (don’t need to know what machine a file lives on)

Media

  • New lightweight media player
  • Media center libraries now shared & integrated with Windows Explorer
  • Right-click on media and select device to play on, e.g. home stereo

Devices

  • New Device Stage window, summarizing all the operations you can perform with a connected device (e.g. mobile device)
  • Configure the mobile device directly from this view

Gadgets

  • Can now exist on your desktop even without the sidebar being present

Miscellaneous

  • Can share desktop themes with other users
  • User has full control of what icons appear in system tray
  • New Action Center view is central place for reporting on PC’s performance and health characteristics

Multi-touch capabilities

  • Even apps that are not touch-aware can leverage basic gestures (e.g. scrolling/zooming).  Standard mouse behaviors are automatically mapped to equivalent gestures
  • Internet Explorer has been made touch-aware, for additional functionality:
    • On-screen keyboard
    • Navigate to hyperlink by touching it
    • Back/Forward with flick gesture

Applet updates

  • Wordpad gets Ribbon UI
  • MS Paint gets Ribbon UI
  • New calculator applet with separate Scientific / Programmer / Statistics modes

Sinofsky Redux

Sinofsky returned to touch on a few more points for Windows 7:

  • Connecting to Live Services
  • Vista “lessons learned”
  • How developers will view Windows 7

Steve talked briefly about how Windows 7 will more seamlessly allow users to connect to “Live Essentials”, extending their desktop experience to the cloud.  It’s not completely clear what this means.  He mentioned the user choosing their own non-Microsoft services to connect to.  I’m guessing that this is about some of the Windows 7 UI bits being extensible and able to incorporate data from Microsoft Live services.  Third party services could presumably also provide content to Windows 7, assuming that they implemented whatever APIs are required.

The next segment was a fun one—Vista “lessons learned”.  Steve made a funny reference to all of the feedback that Microsoft has gotten on Vista, including a particular TV commercial.  It was meant as a clever joke, but Steve didn’t get that many laughs—likely because it was just too painfully true.

Here are the main lessons learned with Vista.  (I’ve changed the verb tense slightly, so that we can read this as more of a confession).

  • The ecosystem wasn’t ready for us.
    • Ecosystem required lots of work to get to the point where Vista would run on everything
    • 95% of all PCs running today are indeed able to run Vista
    • Windows 7 is based on the same kernel, so we won’t run into this problem again
  • We didn’t adhere to standards
    • He’s talking about IE7 here
    • IE8 addresses that, with full CSS standards compliance
    • They’ve even released their compliance test results to the public
    • Win 7 ships with IE8, so we’re fully standards-compliant, out of the box
  • We broke application compatibility
    • With UAC, applications were forced to support running as a standard user
    • It was painful
    • We had good intentions and Vista is now more secure
    • But we realize that UAC is still horribly annoying
    • Most software now supports running as a standard user
  • We delivered features, rather than solutions to typical user scenarios
    • E.g. Most typical users have no hope of properly setting up a home network
    • Microsoft failed to deliver the “last mile” of required functionality
    • Much better in Windows 7, with things like automatic network configuration

The read-between-the-lines takeaway is we won’t make these same mistakes with Windows 7.  That’s a clever message.  The truth is that these shortcomings have basically already been addressed in Vista SP1.  So because Windows 7 is essentially just the next minor rev of Vista, it inherits the same solutions.

But there is one shortcoming with Vista that Sinofsky failed to mention—branding.  Vista is still called “Vista” and the damage is already done.  There are users out there who will never upgrade to Vista, no matter what marketing messages we throw at them.  For these users, we have Windows 7—a shiny new brand to slap on top of Vista, which is in fact a stable platform.

This is a completely reasonable tactic.  Vista basically works great—the only remaining problem is the perception of its having not hit the mark.  And Microsoft’s goal is to create the perception that Windows 7 is everything that Vista was not.

Enough ranting.  On to Sinofsky’s list of things that Windows 7 provides for Windows developers:

  • The ribbon UI
    • The new Office ribbon UI element has proved itself in the various Office apps.  So it’s time to offer it up to developers as a standard control
    • The ribbon UI will also gradually migrate to other Windows/Microsoft applications
    • In Windows 7, we now get the ribbon in Wordpad and Paint.  (I’m also suspecting that they are now WPF applications)

  • Jump lists
    • These are new context menus built into the taskbar that applications can hook into
    • E.g. For “most recently used” file lists
  • Libraries
    • Apps can make use of new Libraries concept, loading files from libraries rather than folders
  • Multi-touch, Ink, Speech
    • Apps can leverage new input mechanisms
    • These mechanisms just augment the user experience
    • New/unique hardware allows for some amazing experiences
  • DirectX family
    • API around powerful graphics hardware
    • Windows 7 extends the DirectX APIs

Next, Steven moved on to talk about basic fundamentals that have been improved in Windows 7:

Decrease

  • Memory — kernel has smaller memory footprint
  • Disk I/O — reduced registry reads and use of indexer
  • Power  — DVD playback cheaper, ditto for timers

Increase

  • Speed  — quicker boot time, device-ready time
  • Responsiveness  — worked hard to ensure Start Menu always very responsive
  • Scale  — can scale out to 256 processors

Yes, you read that correctly—256 processors!  Hints of things to come over the next few years on the hardware side.  Imagine how slow your single-threaded app will appear to run when running on a 256-core machine!

Sinofsky at this point ratcheted up and went into a sort of but wait, there’s more mode that would put Ron Popeil to shame.  Here are some other nuggets of goodness in Windows 7:

  • Bitlocker encryption for memory sticks
    • No more worries when you lose these
  • Natively mount/managed Virtual Hard Drives
    • Create VHDs from within Windows
    • Boot from VHDs
  • DPI
    • Easier to set DPI and work with it
    • Easier to manage multiple monitors
  • Accessibility
    • Built-in magnifier with key shortcuts
  • Connecting to an external projector in Alt-Tab fashion
    • Could possibly be the single most important reason for upgrading to Win 7
  • Remote Desktop can now access multiple monitors
  • Can move Taskbar all over the place
  • Can customize the shutdown button  (cheers)
  • Action Center allows turning off annoying messages from various subsystems
  • New slider that allows user to tweak the “annoying-ness” of UAC (more cheers)

As a final note, Sinofsky mentioned that as developers, we had damn well all be developing for 64-bit platforms.  Windows 7 is likely to ship a good percentage of new boxes on x64.  (His language wasn’t this strong, but that was the message).

Scott Guthrie

As wilted as we all were with the flurry of Windows 7 takeaways, we were only about half done.  Scott Guthrie, VP, Developer Division at Microsoft, came on stage to talk about development tools.

He started by pointing out that you can target Windows 7 features from both managed (.NET) and native (Win32) applications.  Even C++/MFC are being updated to support some of the new features in Windows 7.

Scott talked briefly about the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, which has already released:

  • Streamlined setup experience
  • Improved startup times for managed apps  (up to 40% improvement to cold startup times)
  • Graphics improvements, better performance
  • DirectX interop
  • More controls
  • 3.5 SP1 built into Windows 7

Scott then demoed taking an existing WPF application and adding support for Windows 7 features:

  • He added a ribbon at the top of the app
  • Add JumpList support for MRU lists in the Windows taskbar
  • Added Multi-touch support

Scott announced a new WPF toolkit being released this week that includes:

  • DatePicker, DataGrid, Calendar controls
  • Visual State Manager support (like Silverlight 2)
  • Ribbon control  (CTP for now)

Scott talked about some of the basics coming in .NET 4 (coming sometime in 2009?):

  • Different versions of .NET CLR running SxS in the same process
  • Easier managed/native interop
  • Support for dynamic languages
  • Extensibility Component Model (MEF)

At this point, Scott also starts dabbling in the but wait, there’s more world, as he demoed Visual Studio 2010:

  • Much better design-time support for WPF
  • Visual Studio itself now rewritten in WPF
  • Multi-monitor support
  • More re-factoring support
  • Better support for Test Driven Development workflow
  • Can easily create plugins using MEF

Whew.  Now he got to the truly sexy part—probably the section of the keynote that got the biggest reaction out of the developer crowd.  Scott showed off a little “third party” Visual Studio plug-in that pretty-formatted XML comments (e.g. function headers) as little graphical WPF widgets.  Even better, the function headers, now graphically styled, also contained hot links right into a local bug database.  Big cheers.

Sean’s prediction—this will lead to a new ecosystem for Visual Studio plugins and interfaces to other tools.

Another important takeaway—MEF, the new extensibility framework, isn’t just for Visual Studio.  You can also use MEF to extend your own applications, creating your own framework.

Tesco.com Demo of Rich WPF Client Application

Here we got our obligatory partner demo, as a guy from Tesco.com showed off their snazzy application that allowed users to order groceries.  Lots of 2D and 3D graphical effects—one of the more compelling WPF apps that I’ve seen demoed.

Scott Redux

Scott came back out to talk a bit about new and future offerings on the web development side of things.

Here are some of the ASP.NET improvements that were delivered with .NET 3.5 SP1:

  • Dynamic Data
  • REST support
  • MVC (Model-View-Controller framework)
  • AJAX / jQuery  (with jQuery intellisense in Visual Studio 2008)

ASP.NET 4 will include:

  • Web Forms improvements
  • MVC improvements
  • AJAX improvements
  • Richer CSS support
  • Distributed caching

Additionally, Visual Studio 2010 will include better support for web development:

  • Code-focused improvements  (??)
  • Better JavaScript / AJAX tooling
  • Design View CSS2 support
  • Improved publishing and deployment

Scott then switched gears to talk about new and future offerings for Silverlight.

Silverlight 2 was just RTM’d two weeks ago.  Additionally, Scott presented two very interesting statistics:

  • Silverlight 1 is now present on 25% of all Internet-connected machines
  • Silverlight 2 has been downloaded to 100 million machines

IIS will inherit the adaptive (smooth) media streaming that was developed for the NBC Olympics web site.  This is available today.

A new Silverlight toolkit is being released today, including:

  • Charting controls, TreeView, DockPanel, WrapPanel, ViewBox, Expander, NumericUpDown, AutoComplete et al
  • Source code will also be made available

Visual Studio 2010 will ship with a Silverlight 2 designer, based on the existing WPF designer.

We should also expect a major release of Silverlight next year, including things like:

  • H264 media support
  • Running Silverlight applications outside of the browser
  • Richer graphics support
  • Richer data-binding support

Whew.  Take a breath..

David Treadwell – Live Services

While we were all still reeling from Scott Gu’s segment, David Treadweall, Corporate VP, Live Platform Services at Microsoft, came out to talk about Live Services.

The Live Services offerings are basically a set of services that allow applications to interface with the various Windows Live properties.

The key components of Live Services are:

  • Identity – Live ID and federated identity
  • Directory – access to social graph through a Contacts API
  • Communication & Presence – add Live Messenger support directly to your web site
  • Search & Geo-spatial – including mashups on your web sites

The Live Services are all made available via standards-based protocols.  This means that you can invoke them from not only the .NET development world, but also from other development stacks.

David talked a lot about Live Mesh, a key component of Live Services:

  • Allows applications to bridge Users / Devices / Applications
  • Data synchronization is a core concept

Applications access the various Live Services through a new Live Framework:

  • Set of APIs that allow apps to get at Live Services
  • Akin to CLR in desktop environment
  • Live Framework available from PC / Web / Phone applications
  • Open protocol, based on REST, callable from anything

Ori Amiga Demo

Ori Amiga came out to do a quick demonstration of how to “Meshify” an existing application.

The basic idea of Mesh is that it allows applications to synchronize data across all of a user’s devices.  But importantly, this means—for users who have already signed up for Live Mesh.

Live Mesh supports storing the user’s data “in the cloud”, in addition to on the various devices.  But this isn’t required.  Applications could use Mesh merely as a transport mechanism between instances of the app on various devices.

Takeshi Numoto – The Closer

Finally, Takeshi Numoto, GM, Office Client at Microsoft, came out to talk about Office 14.

Office 14 will deliver Office Web Applications—lightweight versions of the various Office applications that run in a browser.  Presumably they can also store all of their data in the cloud.

Takeshi then did a demo that focused a bit more on the collaboration features of Office 14 than on the ability to run apps in the browser.  (Running in the browser just works and the GUI looks just like the rich desktop-based GUI).

Takeshi showed off some pretty impressive features and use cases:

  • Two users editing the same document at the same time, both able to write to it
  • As users change pieces of the document, little graphical widget shows up on the other user’s screen, showing what piece the first user is currently changing.  All updated automatically, in real-time
  • Changes are pushed out immediately to other users who are viewing/editing the same document
  • This works in Word, Excel, and OneNote  (at least these apps were demoed)
  • Can publish data out to data stores in Live Services

Ray’s Wrapup

Ray Ozzie came back out to wrap everything up.  He pointed out that everything we’d seen today was real.  He also pointed out that some of these technologies were more “nascent” than others.  In other words—no complaints if some bits don’t work perfectly.  It seemed an odd note to end on.