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Next version of Windows to be 'fundamentally different'

So many cores, so little support. Microsoft's Ty Carlson knows the software industry has lots of work ahead to satisfy future multicore processors.

CORONADO, Calif.--Future versions of Windows will have to be "fundamentally different" in order to take advantage of multicore processors, according to Ty Carlson of Microsoft.

"You're going to see in excess of 8, 16, 64 and beyond processors on your client computer," said Carlson, director of technical strategy at Microsoft, during a panel discussion at the Future in Review conference. Windows Vista, on the other hand, is "designed to run on 1, 2, maybe 4 processors," he said, referring to the fact that quad-core processors are now available from Intel and are on the way from Advanced Micro Devices.

The problem, as has been noted on many occasions, is that loads of PC applications were programmed with serial processing in mind, meaning that the performance of those applications increased as a chip's clock speed increased. That's not how it works anymore. The chip industy has decided that multiple cores are the best way to keep increasing performance, and that means applications now have to be designed with parallel processing in mind.

Intel and AMD have not confirmed processor plans beyond eight cores, and only in theory at that. Intel has demonstrated an 80-core processor, but that's just a research project that can't run conventional code. But Carlson appears convinced that he and other software developers should start getting ready for that world.

"In 10 to 15 years' time we're going to have incredible computing power. The challenge will be bringing that ecosystem up that knows how to write programs," Carlson said. Windows Vista is designed to take advantage of multiple processing threads, but not 16 threads. And application developers are even further behind in making the transition to the multicore world.