It’s been something of a maxim in computing circles that processing power (however you choose to measure it) increases over time. This is a good thing, given that it enables faster performance and the development of new applications that would simply be impossible under older hardware. There’s Moore’s famous Law (really more of an observation, but I’m nitpicking) that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years. More transistors equals greater performance, in other words.
That pace of progress is a good thing in certain ways, but it does mean that systems can become obsolete from a technical standpoint long before they actually stop working as functional machines. The salespeople of the world would be delighted for us all to update our desktops and laptops every one to the three years, but there are plenty of PCs that manage service lives of a decade or more, even though what’s under the hood is well behind the cutting edge. They certainly won’t run the latest games, many of the latest applications or operating systems.
Except, that is, when they do.
Speaking recently at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in California, Tami Reller, corporate vice-president of the Windows division announced that the next version of Windows, currently known only as Windows 8, should have the same minimum system requirements as Windows 7 currently does. It won’t be quite the same experience across systems, as Windows 8 will dynamically adapt performance based on the system it’s running on.
Without a doubt, Windows 7 currently runs better on a high end system than a low end one, but the important detail is that Microsoft’s planning to keep the minimum supported specification effectively frozen for quite some time, especially when you consider that the system requirements for Windows 7 are essentially the same as they were for Windows Vista. A 1GHz processor is hardly cutting edge, but if Microsoft can keep to Reller’s claimed (and widely reported online aim) of “keeping system requirements either flat or reducing them over time” then Windows 8 might just run on some very old hardware indeed.
It’s early days yet — we won’t even see Windows 8 on store shelves this year, and there’s speculation but no strict timeline for when Windows 8 will launch.
It’s a fascinating move from Microsoft, especially in contrast to the software offering that (at the time of writing) Apple’s just about to launch, OS X 10.7, AKA “Lion”. Like its predecessor, “Snow Leopard”, Lion won’t run on older PowerPC based Macs, but it also drops the software that allowed older PowerPC applications to run from the operating system entirely, as well as not supporting some of the very first Intel-based Macs either.
There are catches here; obviously some systems do die a death faster than others whether due to wear and tear, design or even just old-fashioned bad luck. New hardware isn’t just about processing power; you can also add other new and interesting features to a system by updating it regularly, and depending on your use of a computer, that may make sense to you. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and need every last watt of power you can wring out of your hardware, Microsoft’s plans are certainly more appealing than Apple’s.