Microsoft says you won't require a killer PC to run its next OS, but without one you won't get the same experience either.
Last week was quite clearly Apple’s week. On Friday queues formed outside its Regent Street store for the release of Tiger, the latest version of OS X and days earlier it impressed every journalist in the room (myself included) with a run through of its capabilities at the swanky Soho Hotel (again, sorry Robert… I just didn’t see you coming). So, naturally enough, this week Microsoft is trying to make some headlines of its own with updates on Longhorn.
The big one it wants to sell is that Longhorn won’t require a space age PC to run on. This news comes from Richard Russell, a developer in Microsoft’s Windows Core Operating System Division, who states that early testing indicates Longhorn should boot on machines with as little as 128MB of RAM. That said, there is a “but” and this “but” is that you won’t get the same experience as owners of more modern systems. No, I’m not talking about simple speed here, but actual visual differences.
You see, there will be no less than four different graphics levels to Longhorn. The top two: dubbed ”Aero” and ”Aero Glass” will feature composite graphics with 3D effects and transitions (how very Tiger!). A third level, ”To Go”, is meant for notebooks and it wipes out some of the more demanding visuals. Finally, there is a classic mode which the company says will not look so very different from XP.
What can handle what? Well, Microsoft plans to design a piece of software that will tell users what their machines are capable of in advance. For new PCs, a logo will be put in place to tell “Longhorn Optimised” computers apart from those that will just load it (though I would imagine in 18 months time most new PCs should have a pretty decent shot of running Longhorn reasonably well?).
Now, if this is all beginning to sound rather muddled to you don’t worry, it does to me too. The last thing we all need is yet another ragged classification process when we just want more reliable, more secure PCs (is it really so much to ask?). Still, from the glass-half-full line of thought, I am pleased that the concept of scalability has finally soaked into the Microsoft consciousness. With previous versions of Windows they either ran or they didn’t, so at least there is some choice here.
Do we have detailed specifications of what hardware will be required to run what graphical mode? Nah, don’t be silly – this is Microsoft we are talking about here…