Windows 7 Will Feature Improved Power Management

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Some of the new features also are designed to give IT professionals more control and flexibility over management of the energy-efficiency capabilities of Windows 7 OS systems

Microsoft is ramping up the power management capabilities in the upcoming Windows 7 operating system with features designed to make it easier for IT administrators to help their companies save money while enhancing the user experience.

Some of the features build on what Microsoft put into Windows Vista, while others are new capabilities unique to Windows 7. However, all are aimed at enabling businesses to reduce the amount of power they consume and pay for.

“[Energy management] has been a key criteria for customers,” Francois Ajenstat, Microsoft’s director of environmental sustainability, said in an interview. “They want to save energy, they want to save the environment and they want to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Microsoft has made sustainability a core component of the company, both in how it conducts itself and in what it puts into the products, Ajenstat said. The company solidified its approach in 2007 with the appointment of Rob Bernard as its chief environmental strategist.

While much of the discussion about green IT in the industry has come from OEMs and chip makers, particularly Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, the operating system can carry a lot of the burden of energy efficiency, Ajenstat said.

With Vista, Microsoft engineers put more than 30 new power management features in place that were turned on by default, Ajenstat said. In a study, the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, found that for every PC with those Vista power management tools turned on, users could save $50 per PC per year on energy costs, he said. Furthermore, Continental Airlines is saving more than $2 million per year in energy costs by using the power management tools, Ajenstat said.

“The hardware vendors have definitely had a loud voice in this space,” he said. “Our approach is a more ecosystem-centric approach.”

Microsoft is working closely with its hardware partners to ensure that the features in Windows 7 mesh with what the OEMs and chip makers are putting into their products, said Jason Leznek, group project manager for Windows 7.

Currently in the release candidate phase, Windows 7 is due for general availability in October.

One thing that Microsoft is doing is sharing telemetry data from its Windows 7 beta users with its partners, Leznek said. If there is some incompatibility between the hardware and software—for example, if a USB device interferes with a software feature—Microsoft and the USB device maker can work together to resolve the issue.

Microsoft also is working with partners to ensure that the same specifications are being used by everyone, Leznek said. For example, during the development of Windows XP, some vendors used the term “sleep mode” to describe when the system wasn’t being used, while others used “idle.”

The energy management features in Windows 7 revolve around not only finding ways to reduce energy consumption, but also to improve battery life and give IT administrators and Microsoft partners tools with which to better troubleshoot and handle power management issues. Windows 7 also will give IT administrators greater granularity in their group policy settings

Windows 7 will come with improved Trigger Start Services. Systems services tend to start automatically and run in the background, waiting for an event to happen to be put into use. Prior to Vista, the systems services could be turned on or off. With Vista, that was improved to having the systems be delayed.

With Windows 7 and the Trigger Start Services feature, the system service will start only if an event starts it.

“If you don’t have a Bluetooth device running on the machine, why have the Bluetooth service turned on?” Leznek said.

One of the tools for reducing power usage when a system is idle is what Leznek called “Adaptive Display Brightness” for system displays, which can account for as much as 40 percent of the overall system power consumption. Before, when a system was left idle, the display would go black, which he said users found frustrating. With Adaptive Display Brightness, the screen dims but doesn’t go completely black when the system is idle for only a short time.

Windows 7 also will reduce power to the wireless NIC (network interface card) when the system is plugged in, or to the wired NIC if the system is running wirelessly. In addition, when the user disconnects the network cable, the OS can place the network adapter into a low-power state, and will put it back into a full-power state when the network cable is reconnected.

The ability to put wireless network controllers into low-power modes also was available in Vista, but because few wireless network controllers support the low-power modes, it caused the computer to disconnect from the wireless network. That support has improved since Vista came out, Leznek said.

In addition, during times when the system is idle, Timer Coalescing enables Windows 7 to execute various background activities at the same time to keep the processor idle for longer periods of time. Windows 7 also will defer noncritical background activity when the system is on battery power to extend the laptop’s battery life.

Microsoft also is looking to give IT administrators and users greater flexibility in using the power management features, Leznek said. In Vista, IT administrators could institute group policy dictating whether the features would be active, and users couldn’t change it. With Windows 7, IT administrators not only can make policy on energy management, but also decide which users can make individual changes.

The goal is to make energy management something users want to do, rather than something that is forced on them, he said.

IT administrators also will be given a set of diagnostics incorporated into the PowerCfg.exe utility that will let them find problems across their systems that could impact energy efficiency. They can also detect applications and open network files that prevent a computer from entering Sleep and Hibernate modes. Users can typing powercfg /ENERGY in an elevated Command Prompt window and start tracing events on the computer. In addition, the command generates HTML or X M L reports that identify problems related to energy efficiency.

In addition, Windows 7 offers a troubleshooting platform for a variety of issues, including power management. If there is a problem with a power management aspect of the computer, the user can go to the control panel and have the computer fix it.

Leznek said that capability is an example of Microsoft trying to make energy management not only more comprehensive, but also less complex.

“It is a fine line,” he said. “We’re enabling [IT professionals] to do what they want to do without making it a burden on them.”

To cut power consumption and improve battery life, Microsoft also has introduced a number of enhancements in such areas as DVD playing and audio playback, search, Internet browsing, and some games.

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