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The things that are better left unspoken

a blog by Sander Berkouwer

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Lifting the shroud off MinWin

Windows 7 isn't due for a very long time, but one of the most interesting things from the next version of Windows Operating System was publicly shown by Eric Traut on October 13th, 2007 at a presentation at the University of Illinois. (view links below) The feature I'm talking about is MinWin. It's basically a highly efficient Windows kernel with minimal fuzz surrounding it.

I find that interesting...

 

The reputation of Windows

Let's look at the reputation of the Windows Operating System:

The "bloated" Operating System

Microsoft Windows is often regarded as the 'bloated' Operating System. This is partly true, since it depends on the other Operating Systems and their configuration you include in the comparison. Undeniably however Windows has gotten big over time, as I mentioned earlier when I looked at disk usage after a clean install and Service Pack sizes for the various versions of Windows NT.

Looking at the rate disks grew however I don't think there's much reason to complain. Even if you've bought a mediocre drive three years ago, you're still able to install the latest Windows version on it...

Another reason why late versions of the Windows Operating System are bloated is they are filled with (some would say "clogged up by") features. Features that people asked for, longed for and even craved for. Arguably Windows Movie Maker and it's hundreds of megabytes of samples, spelling check deprived Windows Mail and hijack vulnerable Internet Explorer aren't features you couldn't live without. The decisions to include a VPN client, (so you could make virtual private networking connections to your work from anywhere without the need the install specialized software) Internet Connection Sharing (no need for a router), and  a MPEG2 decoder (so you can watch DVD's from Windows Vista without the need to install special DVD software)  are brilliant if you'd ask me...

The "closed" Operating System

Another argument against the Windows Operating System is it's closed source software, where in Linux you can recompile your kernel to only include the stuff you want in there and leave out all the other mess.

Only one question remains: How many Linux guys do you know that recompile their kernel?Since Linux fanatics often change hardware configuration which often include exotic hardware they usually don't kick essential stuff out of their systems... or out of their kernels.

 

Is MinWin the answer?

One might consider MinWin as the answer to all those Pingu Coddlers (by which I mean the previously mentioned Linux Fanatics) and Windows experts that secretly admire the new useful features. I feel it is, but at the same time I feel it isn't.

As Eric Traut argues MinWin is source code that can be used in Windows Clients, Windows Servers and Windows embedded scenario's. It's code that can be used to modularize the Operating System, which offers the ability to add features and roles when you'd need them. This is technology that's already in Windows. You might say Microsoft is already on this path.

However, MinWin is not 'opening up' the Operating System and I guess Microsoft will try long and hard to protect its crown jewels from becoming 'infrastructure' for other Operating Systems. Thankfully Microsoft has taken loads of 'junk' out of the kernel already. In the old days drivers needed to be part of the kernel for performance reasons. (Windows NT 4 for example) but most drivers now run in the user space. Modularization check, closed source check.

MinWin can also be seen as the foundation for the next versions of Windows and especially the next version of Windows Server Server Core. Arguably MinWin is what Server Core might look like in a few years from now. Fortunately what is seen often within big enterprises is technology being reused, made 'infrastructure'. I'd like MinWin to become generally excepted and used infrastructure for future versions of Windows. Just like I'd love seeing Server Core technology becoming part of other Microsoft products.

 

Concluding

MinWin is awesome technology!

To me it shows Microsoft is walking the path of modularization for the Windows Operating System. A path that delivers great ideas like Server Core, but promises even more for the future. It also scares me a little. It shows most of the Windows Server 2008 Server Core ideas are part of a "Version 1.0" release...

Further watching

Watch the whole of Eric Traut's presentation
Watch an 8 minute excerpt with all the interesting stuff (thanks to Long Zheng
Preserve Long Zhengs bandwidth: Mirror 1, Mirror 2

Further reading

Eric Traut, Distinguished Engineer
Eric Traut talks (and demos) Windows 7 and MinWin 
Eric Traut talks (and demos) Windows 7 and MinWin 
Microsoft builds mini Windows core
Core of "Windows 7" taking shape: meet the "MinWin" kernel 
MinWin - My Notes to Myself and Others... 
Stripped-down ‘MinWin’ kernel to be at the core of Windows 7 and more 
MinWin: a "small" preview of the Windows 7 kernel
Windows 7 previewed with MinWin 
A tiny little peek at Windows 7

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 10:23 PM by Sander Berkouwer

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