Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Microsoft Windows

Versions | Hardware | Experience Rating | Lifecycle | Customizing

This page contains general information about Microsoft Windows including some of the technology common to most Windows versions. You'll find information about specific versions in the Windows section of the Self-help Resources index page.

New Windows User?

If you are new to Windows, you might want to have a look at the Windows Basics page to learn more about some of the terminology used on this site and others.

A Short History

The first widely-used version of Windows was Windows 3.1, which was a DOS (command-line operating system) add-on.

The Start Button Appears

Windows 95 gave us the Start button and most of the layout features that show up on Windows until Windows 8.

Windows Vista introduced Windows Aero transparency with larger icons and was a significant step towards better security in Windows, later refined in Windows 7 along with new productivity features. Both are a result of more powerful hardware displaying on larger flat screen monitors.

Crippled Versions

Unfortunately, Vista and Windows 7 included crippled versions (Vista Basic and Windows 7 Starter Edition) which enable them to run on older hardware, but lacked ease of use and suffered from poor performance. Most settings needed to be searched for.

Mobile Computing

Windows 8 saw Microsoft attempt to integrate the desktop operating system with mobile computing but also crippled support for the keyboard and mouse. Modifications in Windows 8.1 restored some functionality, but it was too little too late.

Software as a Service

Microsoft took a different tack with Windows 10. Realizing that much of the world was now using mobile technology, Windows 10 brought the mobile concept to a single operating system that runs on everything from smart phones to giant teleconferencing systems. Windows 10 is Software as a Service rather than a traditional operating system and the license is tied to the life of the device (like cell phones).

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Windows Versions

Windows comes in several versions, usually separated by chronological release date.

Windows Editions

Windows XP through Windows 8.1 there were different flavours (called editions) of the same Windows version aimed at various users.

SKUs

Windows 10 is designed as a single operating system running on any device and the various versions are now referred to with different SKUs.

Corporate Windows

There are also Windows versions aimed primarily at the corporate world (enterprise) including Windows Server which was designed for small networks of computers sharing the same information.

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Hardware

Each generation of Windows is more demanding of hardware than previously so recent hardware is generally going to outperform older (particularly legacy) hardware. Reasons include:

  • Most recent computers are capable of running 64-bit versions of Windows (or other operating systems) which are capable of addressing vastly larger amounts of RAM. This means that Windows is less likely to need to store volatile information on the hard drive resulting in more rapid processing of data.
  • Many systems now run dual- or quad-processors. These provide faster computing without huge increases in heat (a huge problem particularly in laptops).
  • Newer hardware is much more energy efficient in spite of increased performance.
  • Display adapters have become much more powerful and capable of running much larger displays in brilliant colour — even modern digital TVs.
  • Newer DDR3 RAM is more efficient and less expensive than legacy models.

New Hardware Performs Better

Flat screen displays have largely replaced CRT (tube) monitors except for CRTs larger than 21 inches because:

  • flat screen monitors have dropped drastically in price;
  • the wide screen provides much more desktop real estate, particularly when gaming or watching videos (although this does not favour editing large word processing documents); and
  • LCDs only change pixels when needed, so they are easier on the user's eyes than the old CRT monitors.

The Future? Windows 8 focussed on the touch format that we've become used to on our tablets and smart phones. While the desktop is not dead, for many technology is becoming more tactile and less dependent upon mice and external keyboards.

32- or 64-bit?

Both current hardware and software is broken into 32- and 64-bit classes (older 4-, 8- and 16-bit classes are obsolete). The larger the number of bits the more information that can be simultaneously transferred.

Not Everything Works in 64-bit

Not all hardware has 64-bit drivers and many older devices won't run in 64-bit environments at all.

Some 32-bit programs no longer run in the 64-bit environment (those that contain 8- or 16-bit components, mostly from the Windows 95 or 98 era).

True 64-bit Computing is Almost Here

Some software may not be available in a 64-bit version and some nominally 64-bit versions don't take advantage of the 64-bit architecture.

Even if the full benefits of 64-bit hardware are not available, the ability to address more RAM is a definite advantage and helps Windows to run faster.

Initially, 64-bit versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox had few plugins available. However, this is rapidly changing and many of the plugins previously required to view multimedia on the Web have been replaced with HTML 5 technologies.

64-bit Advantages

64-bit hardware can address much more memory at a time. 64-bit software will only run on 64-bit hardware running a 64-bit operating system.

Generally, a 64-bit version of Windows has the following advantages:

  • 64-bit systems can see up to 128 GB of RAM (32-bit systems can install up to 4 GB but Windows can only “see” 2.75 GB to 3.5 GB).
  • Programs written to take advantage of a 64-bit operating system run faster.
  • 64-bit systems provide enhanced security features (like the requirement for digitally-signed device drivers).

64-bit Disadvantages

64-bit Windows can still run most legacy 32-bit software, but hardware is more demanding:

  1. Not all hardware devices may be compatible with a 64-bit version of Windows.
    • 32-bit device drivers are not supported.
    • Unsigned device drivers won't install (for security reasons).
    • 64-bit device drivers may not be available for legacy hardware devices (e.g. older USB scanners).
  2. It may be difficult to run legacy programs on a 64-bit operating system.
    • Windows Vista and later that were designed for 64-bit programs but changed the way settings were managed (see Pocomail's issues with Windows 7).
    • Some older 32-bit programs may not run a 64-bit operating system or have issues.
  3. 64-bit addressing takes up more space.
    • This primarily impacts legacy hardware. Modern systems have larger hard drives and more RAM and the corresponding files systems are more efficient.

With the demise of Windows XP and the proliferation of 64-bit hardware, the market for 64-bit applications and drivers has greatly improved.

Getting the Technical Details

The differences between 32- or 64-bit are slightly technical, but the following resources can help answer your questions:

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Windows Experience Rating

With Windows Vista, 7 and 8 Microsoft provided Windows Experience Rating, a tool to assess the hardware on a Windows computer. Various hardware elements are measured and rated (higher is better).

Windows Experience Rating

My desktop's Windows Experience Rating

Locating the Windows Experience Rating

Windows Experience Rating is shown in System within the Control Panel in Windows Vista, 7 and 8:

  • Windows Vista, 7 and 8 users can right-click on Computer then select Properties to show System.
  • Alternatively, click on Start ⇒ Control Panel ⇒ System.
  • You can also search for System.

You'll also see other system information which includes the operating system, registration information and computer information.

Windows Experience Index Hidden in Windows 8.1 and 10

Windows Experience Index was removed from the System information in Windows 8.1 and 10.

  • ChrisPC Win Experience Index, a third-party program, can restore that for you.
  • More experienced users can open C:\Windows\Performance\WinSat\DataStore and look for the latest Formal.Assessment.WinSAT file which contains the data you're looking for in an XML document.

Check for Recommended Requirements

When looking at software and hardware, be sure to check the requirements to run them. Ensure that you have the recommended capability rather than the minimum requirements so you can run the program as intended and to avoid frustration with slow response issues.

Speeding Up Windows

The quickest way to speed up Windows is to add more RAM and to control the number of unnecessary functions starting with Windows, particularly those showing in the taskbar to the right near the clock. Many programs are configured to start with Windows but this can be altered in the options for each program.

CCleaner can help to speed up your Windows:

  • It provides a simple utility to manually stop programs from loading at Windows startup.
  • It does an effective job in cleaning up unnecessary files left behind on your computer.

Checking Gaming Hardware Capability

You can run a quick check of your hardware to see if you meet the system requirements.

  • Can You Run It? is a free web service that automatically analyzes your computer and discovers if you can run a specific game.

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Windows Lifecycle of Support

Microsoft has a stated Support Lifecycle which means they will cease to support a particular version of Windows, Internet Explorer or Office within a predictable time period after its release.

Generally Microsoft policy provides for:

  • 10 years of support (5 years Mainstream Support and 5 years Extended Support) at the supported service pack level for Business, Developer and Desktop Operating System products
  • 5 years Mainstream Support at the supported service pack level for Consumer and Multimedia products
  • 4 years Mainstream Support for Consumer Hardware products

Unsupported Products UNSAFE to Use

Once a Windows version reaches the end of support, you should cease using it. Vulnerabilities affecting newer versions of Windows often can be found in older versions.

An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, which can steal your personal information. Windows Update also installs the latest software updates to improve the reliability of Windows—new drivers for your hardware and more. —Microsoft Support

Windows Support Policies Changed

From the changes to the Modern Lifecycle Policy it is clear that Microsoft has abandoned traditional support, even for currently supported legacy Windows 7 and 8 on newer hardware. This appears to be the factor that will determine the “supported lifetime” of Windows 10 on specific hardware.

This table is based upon the information from Microsoft's Windows lifecycle fact sheet.

The Windows Lifecycle of Support
Win: Release Main: Extended: SP
10 07/29/15 10/13/20 10/14/25 n/a1
8 10/30/12 01/09/18 01/10/23 8.1
7 10/22/09 Expired 01/14/20 SP1

Notes:

Support for earlier Windows versions has expired.

Mainstream and Extended Support are defined by Microsoft.

Prior versions of Windows, including Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, have limited support when running on new processors and chipsets from manufacturers like Intel, AMD, NVidia, and Qualcomm.

1 Windows 10 updates are cumulative, with each update built upon all of the updates that preceded it. A device needs to install the latest update to remain supported. Updates may include new features, fixes (security and/or non-security), or a combination of both. Not all features in an update will work on all devices. A device may not be able to receive updates if the device hardware is incompatible, lacking current drivers, or otherwise outside of the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (“OEM”) support period. Update availability may vary, for example by country, region, network connectivity, mobile operator (e.g., for cellular-capable devices), or hardware capabilities (including, e.g., free disk space).

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www.russharvey.bc.ca/resources/windows.html
Updated: March 30, 2017

Windows history, terminology and the lifecycle of support.

Customizing Windows

A number of the resources have been moved to the Windows XP page as they either don't apply to more recent versions of Windows or are inaccurate for those versions (written before their release).

Tweaking Settings

This involves changing the way Windows does certain tasks, usually by editing the Registry, using a Registry fix or via a utility like Object Desktop.

Removing “Shortcut To”

Remove the annoying “shortcut to” text from the name of new shortcuts. You can still tell a shortcut by the little shortcut arrow overlaying the icon.

  • Open the Registry Editor, then navigate to:
    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer
  • Edit the link registry value and change it to:
    00,00,00,00

The Windows Registry

Windows registry is a very complex file where Windows and programs keep track of preferences, settings and other information.

CCleaner - Freeware Windows Optimization

CCleaner has a registry cleaner. Be sure to back up changes as it removes problems by deleting incorrect registry entries.

Editing the Windows Registry directly is for advanced users.

Always take care when editing the registry. Incorrect entries can make Windows unbootable or stop programs from working.

Editing the Registry

See Wikipedia's Windows Registry page for help.

  1. Type regedit in the search bar at the bottom of the Start menu and hit enter (or click on regedit.exe from the search results).
  2. Click Yes in the User Account Control window that will appear (unless you've disabled UAC).
  3. The Registry Editor will then open.
  4. Backup your registry before you making any changes.

Changing the Look

These changes are more visual than functional, although many can add or enhance features already found in Windows, particularly in the newer versions.

Customization can run from changing the default icons, colour schemes and wallpaper to fully redesigning the look of Windows.

Object Desktop

Object Desktop (US$49.99) provides a whole set of tools and addons to customize your Windows, even change underlying functionality in Windows.

Included with Object Desktop:

  • Window Blinds (US$9.99) permits you to "skin" Windows (change the way it looks).
  • IconPackager (US$9.99) replace the default Windows icons with high quality icons.

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Support Resources

Significant Microsoft Sites

Other Windows Resource Sites

  • Download.com archives Windows drivers, utilities and other software.
  • XXCOPY is an enhanced version of the XCOPY command line utility and is available in 32-and 64-bit versions.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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