Microsoft agrees: Windows is a “really large bloated operating system”

While newly minted Windows head Steven Sinofsky continues to play his cards close to his chest we’re seeing signs that Microsoft is rethinking its monolithic approach to not only the mass-market Windows operating system but the entire family of Windows products from servers down to CE-based embedded devices.

First up is a streamlined microkernel codenamed MinWin around which a re-engineered Windows line will be built. Described as “the Windows 7 source-code base” in reference to the successor to Windows Vista which is slated for a 2010 release MinWin strips back the current NT-based kernel to the barest of bare metal.

“We’ll be using this internally to build all the products based on Windows” said Microsoft engineer Eric Traut when he slipped the first public glimpse of MinWin into a demonstration of Microsoft’s virtualisation technology at the University of Illinois last week.

After loading multiple versions of Windows from the original 1.0 release through to NT 4 – including Windows ‘Bob’ which earned a few chuckles from the audience and which Traut described as “not necessarily Microsoft’s proudest moment!” – Traut fired up an additional VM session to load MinWin which he called “the core of Windows 7 the Windows 7 source-code base”.

Eye candy begone: MinWin is so lean that even the Windows flag on the splash screen is rendered using ASCII

You can forget about eye candy – the prototype microkernel doesn’t even contain a graphics subsystem in its current build so the startup screen flashed a Windows flag created with ASCII characters.

You can also forget about almost every other other creature comfort of a modern operating system. Microsoft has ditched the lot in orde to get MinWin down to the point where it takes up 25MB of hard disk space and runs in 40MB of RAM.

“A lot of people think of Windows as this really large bloated operating system and that may be a fair characterisation I have to admit” Taut said. “It is large it contains a lot of stuff but at its core the kernel and the components that make up the very core of the operating system are pretty streamlined.”

“It’s still bigger than I’d like it to be but we’ve taken a shot at really stripping out all of the layers above and making sure that we had a clean architectural layer there and we created what we call MinWin. About 100 files make up the system in total compared to the 5000 files that make up all of Windows.”

While Taut stressed that MinWin was an internal-only project which “you won’t see us productising but you could imagine this being used as the basis for products in the future.” He later elaborated that “we’ll be using (MinWin) internally to build all the products based on Windows. It’s not just the OS that’s running on many laptops in this room it’s also the OS used for media centres for servers for small embedded devices. It’s used in a lot of different ways and this will provide the opportunity to move into a lot of different areas.”