In a post to the Building Windows 8 blog, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division, acknowledged the importance of boot time. "[N]o feature gets talked about and measured more," he wrote, which is surprising considering that boot time is only loosely related to the performance and utility of the operating system.
It ought to be possible to ignore boot time, to turn on one's computer and go get a cup of coffee while the necessary files are loaded into memory. But the real world doesn't work that way. Waiting for a computer to boot engenders the same frustration as waiting for the driver in the car in front of you to recognize that the light has turned green. A few seconds can feel like an eternity.
Microsoft's competitors haven't wasted any time hammering that point home. What's the first feature Google mentions about its Chromebooks? "Chromebooks boot in 8 seconds and resume instantly." For those running Windows XP, with boot times measured in minutes, that's a major selling point.
Windows 7 has narrowed the boot time gap substantially, thanks to techniques like parallel driver initialization, but Microsoft wants the process to be faster still. A video demonstration shows Windows 8 booting in ... 8 seconds.
In the blog post, Gabe Aul, a Windows director of program management, characterizes Windows 8's fast startup mode as "downright amazing."
Part of the speed improvement can be attributed to the fact that the Windows 8 demo laptop uses a solid-state drive, or SSD. That's what you want if you're after rapid boot times. That's what Google uses in its Chromebooks. An SSD-equipped MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Lion clocks in at a few seconds more, but some users report sub-10 second boot times.
Yet Windows 8 isn't simply relying on fast storage hardware. Microsoft has also been working on software improvements to make Windows computers boot more quickly. Aul, for example, describes how Windows 8's fast startup mode combines the traditional cold boot process with hibernate mode. In addition, the company has been working with manufacturers to promote the use of Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) hardware, which is faster than traditional BIOS.
The change has been a long time coming, and for Windows users, it probably can't come fast enough. Expect further details to be revealed at Microsoft's BUILD conference next week.
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