Working with Windows 7

1/15/2011 9:22:49 AM
From startup to shutdown, Windows 7 is different from its predecessors—and these differences go far beyond the gadgets and other gizmos in Windows 7’s highly designed interface. If you want to truly know how Windows 7 works and what makes it tick, you need to dig under the hood.

Windows Vista was the first truly hardware-independent version of Windows, and Windows 7 continues this tradition. Unlike older releases of Windows, Windows 7 doesn’t boot from a plain-text initialization file (which was limited and prone to tampering). Instead, the operating system uses the Windows Boot Manager and a more robust configuration system to initialize and start the operating system. The Boot Manager is a key component of Windows 7’s extensive boot environment.

  • The boot environment dramatically changes the way the operating system starts. Microsoft created the boot environment to resolve several prickly problems related to boot integrity, operating system integrity, and firmware abstraction.

  • The boot environment is loaded prior to the operating system, making it a preoperating system environment. As such, you can use the boot environment to validate the integrity of the startup process and the operating system itself before actually starting the operating system.

  • The boot environment is created as an extensible abstraction layer. This means that the operating system can work with multiple types of firmware interfaces without requiring the operating system to be specifically written to work with these firmware interfaces. Rather than updating the operating system each time a new firmware interface is developed, the firmware interface developers can use the extensible boot environment to allow the operating system to communicate as necessary through the firmware interfaces.

Currently, Basic Input Output System (BIOS) and Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) are the two prevalent firmware interfaces for computers. Firmware interface abstraction makes it possible for Windows 7 to work with BIOS-based and EFI-based computers in exactly the same way, and this is one of the primary reasons why Windows 7 achieves hardware independence.

The other secret ingredient for Windows 7’s hardware independence is Windows Imaging Format (WIM). Microsoft distributes Windows 7 on media using WIM disk images. Here’s what you need to know about WIM right now:

  • Windows Image (.wim) files are used to deploy Windows 7. WIM uses compression and single-instance storage to dramatically reduce the size of image files. Using compression reduces the size of the image in much the same way as ZIP compression reduces the size of files. Using single-instance storage reduces the size of the image, because only one physical copy of a file is stored for each instance of that file in the disk image.

  • Because WIM is hardware-independent, Microsoft can use a single binary for each supported architecture: one binary for 32-bit architectures and one binary for 64-bit architectures. If you work at a company that creates disk images of various computer configurations, you can use this technology to reduce the number of disk images you must maintain.

The final secret ingredient for Windows 7’s hardware independence is modularization. Windows 7 uses modular component design so that each component of the operating system is defined as a separate independent unit or module. As modules can contain other modules, various major features of the operating system can be grouped together and described independently of other major features. Because modules are independent from one another, you can swap modules in or out to customize the operating system environment. Modularization has many benefits:

  • Thanks to modularization, you can more easily add features to the operating system. Instead of having to go through a lengthy process for adding or removing components as with earlier releases of Windows, with Windows 7 you can easily turn features on or off. If you click Start→Control Panel→Programs→“Turn Windows features on or off,” you can quickly and easily select features to add or remove using the Windows Features dialog box, shown in Figure 1.

  • Thanks to modularization, Windows 7 is language-independent. Some languages are included with your version of Windows 7. Others you need to obtain separately and install. You can add or remove language packs as easily as you can Windows features. If you click Start→Control Panel→Change Display Language under Clock, Language, and Region, you can quickly and easily install and uninstall language packs. Click the Install/Uninstall Languages button to launch the Install or Uninstall Display Languages Wizard, shown in Figure 2, and follow the prompts to add or remove language support. You’ll need to insert the Windows 7 or language pack media when prompted.

Figure 1. Adding and removing features simply by turning them on and off

Figure 2. Adding and removing language support

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