• Windows 8 promises .....

  • Windows 8 promises much faster boot up times

    Are you one of those people who turns the machine off at night and on in the morning to clear out the cruft? Windows 8 feels your coffee-making pain

    Windows 8 preview
    Windows 8 preview: not only pretty, but faster too, at least in development

    Windows 8 will have much faster boot-up times, the divisional chief Steven Sinofsky has promised in a new blogpost on Microsoft's developer blogs.

    To prove that Microsoft is serious about speeding up the process of restarting the machine from a "cold" state – which it says data retrieved from systems shows is used by 45% of laptop users, and 57% of all Windows 7 users – the company has posted a video showing a test system booting up in just two seconds.

    While the system in the demonstration is highly optimised, and relies on a solid-state disk (SSD) to help increase the speed at which data is read off the disk, the new posting shows that the Windows team is determined to cut the time spent by most users waiting for their machines to become usable.

    "When it comes to talking about "fundamentals" we want to start with boot time – no feature gets talked about and measured more," Sinofsky noted. "We designed Windows 8 so that you shouldn't have to boot all that often (and we are always going to work on reducing the number of required restarts due to patching running code). But when you do boot we want it to be as fast as possible."

    The data gathered by Microsoft also shows that 45% of Windows 7 laptop users and 42% of all Windows 7 desktop users put their machines to sleep (a state where RAM is still powered via a trickle from the battery, which allows for a near-instant return to use) and 11% of laptop users but just 1% of desktop Windows 7 users use "hibernate", in which the content of RAM is written to disk and then read back in when the machine is activated.

    There are a lot of people who aren't clear about what "hibernate" actually does, since the Windows team notes that "people say they prefer to shut down because they want to have their PC completely 'off' so that it uses no power – either to preserve battery life or to reduce their energy use. Hibernate is also a good option for this since it similarly has no power draw, and many people really like it."

    Indeed – Hibernate is the sensible zero-power option. "However, it's clearly not for everyone, since one of the other things we've heard is that many people want to turn their PCs on and have it be a 'fresh start' rather than running all of the stuff from their previous session," writes Gabe Aul from the Windows development team at the blog.

    This is another way in which Microsoft and Apple are diverging in their approach to what they think people want. Apple's Lion offers a "Resume" function which will take you all the way back to where you were – same programs, same windows, everything – when you invoke it. As Matt Gemmell said in the review: " Resume does exactly what it says: when you log back in, or even restart your machine, your session will resume exactly as it was before – right down to the apps and windows that were open, as if you'd never left. We've become somewhat used to this on iOS, but it really is a novelty on a desktop OS. Even current selections are preserved within documents. Extremely useful, and a feature quickly missed if you use another operating system or even an older version of OS X."

    Clearly, the Windows 8 team isn't expecting people to want a Resume function; instead the expectation is that people will want that "clean start". At which one pauses and asks "why do people want a 'clean start'? Clean of what?" To which the suspicion is that the answer is "cruft". Earlier versions of Windows would gradually bog down as their uptime grew, and the answer was to reboot. But newer versions aren't like that.

    However, theirs not to reason why, so the developers at Microsoft are offering a faster boot-up system: "Our solution is a new fast startup mode which is a hybrid of traditional cold boot and resuming from hibernate."

    The key difference is that the kernel session (the code at the heart of the OS) isn't discontinued; instead that is put into hibernation. Restarting then means that the whole system doesn't have to initialised (there are more details on quite what initialisation involves at the post; it's a lot).

    You also get an indication of why you shouldn't trust demonstrations, and especially carefully managed videos put out to massage expectations: "resuming the hibernated system session is comparatively less work than doing a full system initialisation, but it's also faster because we added a new multi-phase resume capability, which is able to use all of the cores in a multi-core system in parallel, to split the work of reading from the hiberfile and decompressing the contents".

    Translation: the video on the site is a multi-core desktop machine (probably eight cores) reading an SSD. If you're looking to run Windows 8 on your dual-core laptop with a spinning hard drive, the change in your boot up time is probably not going to be anything like as dramatic.

    There's also an indication that the already-complicated options for "turning off" your Windows machine – immortalised by former Microsoftie Joel Spolsky as The Windows Shutdown Crapfest – is going to get just that little bit more complicated:

    "Of course, there are times where you may want to perform a complete shutdown – for example, if you're opening the system to add or change some hardware. We have an option in the UI to revert back to the Windows 7 shutdown/cold boot behavior, or since that's likely a fairly infrequent thing, you can use the new /full switch on shutdown.exe. From a cmd prompt, run: shutdown /s /full / t 0 to invoke an immediate full shutdown. Also, choosing Restart from the UI will do a full shutdown, followed by a cold boot."

    No mention of whether Windows Updates will still force-restart your machine while you're in the middle of work. But at least it should come back faster.

    No mention either of what is viewed as the most interesting and important change in Windows 8: that there will be a version that runs on chips using the ARM achitecture, rather than Intel architecture. How will the boot interface for that look? Possibly the answers will come next week with Microsoft's BUILD conference.

    So, now: will this make any difference to your life? Are you an off again/on again person? A hibernator? A sleeper? Let us know.

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