Microsoft's New MinWin Kernel Not So New

If you follow tech news at all, you may have seen reports this week that Microsoft is preparing a leaner new kernel for the next major Windows release, code-named Windows 7. Dubbed MinWin, this new kernel is notable for a few reasons. First, it's the first major bit of actual news about Windows 7 yet revealed. And second, it suggests that Microsoft is preparing to push Windows into even more markets, since the current version of this kernel can run in as little as 40MB of memory.

It sounds really interesting. There's just one problem: MinWin isn't new. And if you're running Windows Vista or a pre-release version of Windows Server 2008, you're already using the first generation of this technology. In fact, it's the basis for Microsoft's componentization work on both of those OSs.

I first wrote about MinWin back in May 2003 in an article describing how Microsoft was componentizing Longhorn, the project that went on to become Windows Vista. MinWin, I wrote, was "the base OS" component of Longhorn. "This base OS component is completely language independent and is a subset of all the editions of Longhorn Microsoft will create. Thus, Microsoft and its hardware partners will be able to use this base OS to create actual Longhorn editions (referred to as Longhorn 'SKUs' after a retailing term); at this time it, appears that IT administrators (and individuals, naturally), won't be able to perform this feat, but will rather license specific Windows SKUs and go from there." That is, of course, exactly what happened: Microsoft used MinWin and Vista's componentized base to create a record number of Vista product versions.

In early versions of Longhorn Server, which went on to become Windows Server 2008, MinWin was called Server Foundation, but it was later renamed to Server Core, which I assume is a name you're familiar with. In a 2005 article about Longhorn Server, I wrote that Server Foundation (MinWin) was a core server OS component that would provide minimal server OS functionality and be used as the basic building block for job-specific server implementations and even other Longhorn Server editions. Server Foundation would be extended with a number of server roles that add functionality to the base component. This too, is exactly what happened.

So why all the excitement about MinWin now? Last week, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Eric Traut appeared in an online presentation in which he discussed Microsoft's work on MinWin for Windows 7. "A lot of people think of Windows as this really large, bloated operating system, and that may be a fair characterization," he said. He also added that a full Vista install image takes up more than 4GB on disk. MinWin, by comparison, was a tiny 25MB, and Microsoft is working to make it even smaller. This touched off articles by every tech news agency on earth, all excited to finally have something to write about Windows 7.

They should have Googled the term first. Obviously, the version of MinWin is enhanced over the work Microsoft did with Vista and Windows 2008, but suggesting that it's completely new and different is disingenuous. Not doing even an iota of research about a topic, however, is perhaps even worse.

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