Windows gets a 'Mini-Me'

Microsoft engineer shows off a new "MinWin" kernel that takes up a fraction of the space of the traditional operating system.

It's rare that anyone at Microsoft talks publicly about Windows 7, the next version of Windows. It's even rarer that anyone provides actual information about what might be inside the operating system, which is still in the planning stages.

However, Microsoft has posted a video of a recent university lecture given by Distinguished Engineer Eric Traut in which he talks about, among other things, a new, slimmed down kernel known as MinWin that was created as part of the Windows 7 development process.

The kernel, which lacks Vista's bells and whistles or even a graphics system at all, takes up just 25MB on disk as compared with 4GB that the full Windows Vista takes up. And while people would need far more than MinWin to run even a basic Web server, Traut said it shows that Windows, at its heart, does not have to be a monster resource hog.

Windows Vista, in all its glory, takes up a whopping 4GB of disk space. Microsoft

"That's kind of proof that there is actually a nice little core inside of Windows," Traut said. "A lot of people think of Windows as this really large, bloated operating system and that's maybe a fair characterization, I have to admit. It is large. It contains a lot of stuff in it, but at its core, the kernel and the components that make up the very core of the operating system actually are pretty streamlined."

Traut stressed that MinWin, though it uses the Windows 7 code base, probably won't be used on its own.

"This is an internal only (thing)," Traut said in the video. "You won't see us productizing this, but you can imagine this being used as the basis for products in the future.

He did hint at some of the possibilities.

"We're definitely going to be using this internally to build all of the products that are based on Windows," he said. "We build a lot of products based on this kernel."

Beyond powering laptops and desktops, Traut notes that the Windows core powers servers, media centers and smaller embedded devices. "This will provide us the ability to move into even more areas," he said.

The full video runs quite long and talks a lot about hypervisors and other stuff, but blogger Long Zheng posted a clip of just the relevant part of the talk on his istartedsomething site. Even if you are not interested in Windows kernels and all that, the first part of the clip is worth watching just for the demos of early Windows versions, like version 1 and 2.

When asked for more info, Microsoft returned to its position of near-silence on the topic.

"As a company we're always exploring new ways to innovate Windows, using customer feedback as a guide," the company said in a statement e-mailed to CNET News.com. "The video posted to Channel 8 is a reflection of our commitment to platform innovation. No decisions have been made--it's still an ongoing discussion for now. We have no new information to share on future versions of the operating system at this time."

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About the author

    During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

     

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