Microsoft, Intel Tout Their Collaboration On Windows 7


Wintel is back, baby -- the long night of Vista is officially over; Microsoft and Intel are BFFs all over again, and Windows 7 has been optimized for the Nehalem and Westmere platforms like no other software-hardware combo before it. At least that was the sauce being served up at a joint Microsoft-Intel press conference in San Francisco Tuesday, and if some questions about what this all means went unanswered, well, that's press relations in the big city.

For now, documenting all the hard work that went into the development of Windows 7 ahead of its official Oct. 22 release date will have to do. Microsoft and Intel talked Tuesday of four key areas where they focused their collaborative efforts beginning "the day after Vista shipped," according to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's Mike Angiulo, general manager of the Windows Planning and PC Ecosystem group.

The breakdown of those areas of collaboration, as touted by the two companies, that resulted in marked improvements over the Windows Vista operating system:

-- Energy efficiency. Microsoft built a "timer coalescing" API that keeps the CPU in a low power state for as long as possible, taking advantage of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's Deep Power Down technology on its latest processors, and consequently yielding energy-efficiency gains such as longer battery life for mobile PCs running Windows 7.

-- Security. New AES instructions baked into Intel's upcoming Westmere processors -- the code-name for the chip giant's transition from its current 45-nanometer process technology to 32nm later this year -- jacks up the speed and reduces the power consumption of AES encryption and decryption in Windows 7.

-- Virtualization. Microsoft and Intel worked together to extend server virtualization-tuned features on Intel platforms to the desktop via Windows Virtual PC.

-- Performance and Responsiveness. Intel's reintroduction of hyper-threading with Nehalem-based Core and Xeon processors means there are advantages to be had by developing software that spins up and spins down those threads -- two per core on most of Intel's latest multicore CPUs -- as workloads require. Windows 7 is optimized for hyper-threading through its improved scheduler, achieving faster boot-ups, for example.

Angiulo and his Intel counterpart, Stephen Smith, were happy to talk about the fruits of their companies' "unprecedented" level of collaboration on Windows 7 and had some demos on hand to provide evidence of it. But they were less willing to discuss some of the more pointed questions from their media interlocutors.

Case in point -- neither would directly address the elephant in the room, Vista, the development of which saw a serious disconnect between Microsoft and Intel on system requirements and product road maps. Angiulo wouldn't say outright that his company's stepped-up collaboration with Intel emerged out of lessons learned from Vista's problematic development, but seemed to reference that less-than-stellar process by repeating that Microsoft worked hard to become a "better" partner to Intel and others in developing Windows 7.

Smith, director of Intel's Digital Enterprise Operations, was asked about Windows 7 performance gains that are tied into Intel's hyper-threading technology -- fantastic for the majority of Intel's Nehalem and Westmere processors that feature, or will feature, two threads per core, but maybe not so much for the couple of chips at the bottom of those bins that aren't thus equipped.

Will buyers of the lowest-end Intel systems running Windows 7 be made aware that their chips won't have that extra multithread oomph? After all, assuming that consumers know the limitations of what they're buying can be risky, as the fallout from Microsoft's Vista Capable labeling campaign showed last time around.

"It's up to us to communicate what the benefits are," said Smith, adding that, as usual, new products will be sent to partners and neutral hardware reviewers who will "kick them from every angle."

That probably wasn't the answer some were looking for, but to be fair, Tuesday's event wasn't meant to be a marketing primer, both companies stressed. Instead, it was advertised as a "technical briefing" on Windows 7 -- and with enough down-and-dirty details in a presentation punctuated by several live demos, that seemed accurate enough.

But the event was also a very public revival of a mutual admiration society -- and if you happen to be an Intel or Microsoft competitor that has enjoyed some of the recent friction between IT's most high-profile couple, that could be cause for concern.