Microsoft Windows Vista: Performance and stability improvements

Check out this excerpt from Microsoft Windows Vista Unleashed by Paul McFedries, with details on performance and stability features for Windows Vista.

SP1 and R2 Microsoft Windows Vista Unleashed
By Paul McFedries

Microsoft Windows Vista Unleashed offers IT professionals details on the new features and improvements included with Windows Vista, as well as a fresh approach to unleashing the vast potential of Microsoft's latest desktop operating system.

Purchase the full book, Microsoft Windows Vista Unleashed.

  Performance and stability improvements
  Security enhancements and other key features
  IE7, Windows Mail and Windows Calendar

The following excerpt is from chapter one entitled "An Overview of Windows Vista."

The Windows Vista interface has been garnering most of the attention in the beta program, but Vista also offers plenty of new and improved features under the hood, as the next few sections show.

Support for Document Metadata
Metadata is data that describes data. For example, if you have some digital photos on your computer, you could use metadata to describe each image: the person who took the picture, the camera used, tags that describe the image itself, and so on. Windows Vista comes with built-in support for document metadata, enabling you to add and edit properties such as the Title, Comments, Tags, Author, and Rating (1 to 5 stars).

Windows not only gives you easier ways to edit metadata (for example, you can click the Edit link in the folder window's Preview pane), but it also makes good use of metadata to make your life easier:

Searching -- The Windows Search service indexes metadata so that you can search for documents using any metadata property as a query operand.

Grouping -- This refers to organizing a folder's contents according to the values in a particular property. This was also possible in Windows XP, but Windows Vista improves on XP by adding techniques that enable you to quickly select all the files in a group and to collapse a group to show only its header.

Stacking -- This is similar to grouping because it organizes the folder's contents based on the values of a property. The difference is that a stack of files appears in the folder as a kind of subfolder.

Filtering -- This refers to changing the folder view so that only files that have one or more specified property values are displayed. For example, you could filter the folder's files to show only those in which the Type property was, say, Email or Music.

Performance Improvements
When I tell people that a new version of Windows is available, the first question they inevitably ask is, "Is it faster than [insert their current Windows version here]?" Everybody wants Windows to run faster, but that's primarily because most of us are running systems that have had the same OS installed for several years. One of the bitter truths of computing is that even the most meticulously well maintained system will slow down over time. On such systems, the only surefire way to get a big performance boost is to wipe the hard drive and start with a fresh OS install.

The Windows Vista Setup program essentially does just that (preserving and restoring your files and settings along the way, of course). Therefore, the short answer to the previous question is, "Yes, Vista will be faster than your existing system." However, that performance gain comes not just from a fresh install, but also because Microsoft has tweaked the Windows code for more speed:

Faster startup -- Microsoft has optimized the Vista startup code and implemented asynchronous startup script and application launching. This means that Vista doesn't delay startup by waiting for initialization scripts to complete their chores. It simply completes its own startup tasks while the scripts run in their own good time in the background.

Sleep mode -- Actually, you can reduce Vista startup to just a few seconds by taking advantage of the new Sleep mode, which combines the best features of the XP Hibernate and Standby modes. Like Hibernate, Sleep mode preserves all your open documents, windows, and programs, and it completely shuts down your computer. However, like Standby, you enter Sleep mode within just a few seconds, and you resume from Sleep mode within just a few seconds.

SuperFetch -- This technology tracks the programs and data you use over time to create a kind of profile of your disk usage. Using the profile, SuperFetch can then make an educated guess about the data that you'll require; like XP's Prefetcher, it can then load that data into memory ahead of time for enhanced performance. SuperFetch can also work with Vista's new ReadyBoost technology, which uses a USB 2.0 flash RAM drive as storage for the SuperFetch cache, which should provide improved performance even further by freeing up the RAM that SuperFetch would otherwise use.

Restart Manager -- This feature enables patches and updates to install much more intelligently. Now you often have to reboot when you install a patch because Windows can't shut down all the processes associated with the application you're patching. Restart Manager keeps track of all running processes and, in most cases, can shut down all of an application's processes so that the patch can be installed without requiring a reboot.

Stability Improvements
The second thing that people always ask about a new version of Windows is, "Will it crash less often? Microsoft has had nearly a quarter of a century to get Windows right, so why can't it produce a glitch-free operating system?" I have to break the news to my frustrated interlocutors that what they seek is almost certainly impossible. Windows is just too big and complex, and the number of software permutations and hardware combinations is just too huge to ensure complete system stability in all setups.

That doesn't mean that Microsoft isn't at least trying to make Windows more stable. Here's what it did in Vista:

I/O cancellation -- Windows often fails because some program has crashed and brought the OS down with it. The usual cause of this is that a program has made an input/output (I/O) request to a service, resource, or another program, but that process is unavailable; this results in a stuck program that requires a reboot to recover. To prevent this, Vista implements an improved version of a technology called I/O cancellation, which can detect when a program is stuck waiting for an I/O request and then cancel that request to help the program recover from the problem.

Reliability monitor -- This new feature keeps track of the overall stability of your system, as well as reliability events, which are either changes to your system that could affect stability or occurrences that might indicate instability. Reliability events include Windows updates, software installs and uninstalls, device driver installs, updates, rollbacks and uninstalls, device driver problems, and Windows failures. Reliability monitors graphs these changes and a measure of system stability over time so that you can graphically see whether any changes affected system stability.

Service recovery -- Many Windows services are mission-critical, and if they fail, it almost always means that the only way to recover your system is to shut down and restart your computer. With Windows Vista, however, every service has a recovery policy that enables Vista not only to restart the service, but also to reset any other service or process that depends on the failed service.

Startup Repair Tool -- Troubleshooting startup problems is not for the faint-of-heart, but you might never have to perform this onerous core again, thanks to Vista's new Startup Repair Tool (SRT), which is designed to fix many common startup problems automatically. When a startup failure occurs, Vista starts the SRT immediately. The program then analyzes the startup logs and performs a series of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the startup failure.

New diagnostic tools -- Windows Vista is loaded with new and improved diagnostic tools. These include Disk Diagnostics (which monitors the Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology, or SMART, data generated by most modern hard disks); Windows Memory Diagnostics (which works with Microsoft Online Crash Analysis to determine whether program crashes are caused by defective physical memory); Memory Leak Diagnosis (which looks for and fixes programs using increasing amounts of memory); Windows Resource Exhaustion Detection and Resolution (RADAR, which monitors virtual memory and issues a warning when resources run low, and also identifies which programs or processes are using the most virtual memory and includes a list of these resource hogs as part of the warning); Network Diagnostics (which analyzes all aspects of the network connection and then either fixes the problem or gives the user simple instructions for resolving the situation); and the Windows Diagnostic Console (which enables you to monitor performance metrics).

Continue to part two, Security enhancements and other key features.

Paul McFedries is the president of Logophilia Limited, a technical writing company. He has been working with computers for over 30 years, has been using Microsoft Windows since version 1, and is widely viewed as an expert in explaining Windows and Windows technology. Paul has written more than 40 books that have sold nearly three million copies worldwide.
This was last published in May 2007

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