Design Principles

Rating - 3/5

Design Principles

Microsoft's design goals for Windows XP include security, reliability, Windows and POSIX application compatibility, high performance, extensibility, portability, and international support.


 Windows XP security goals required more than just adherence to the design standards that enabled Windows NT 4.0 to receive a C-2 security classification from the U.S. government (which signifies a moderate level of protection from defective software and malicious attacks).

Extensive code review and testing were combined with sophisticated automatic analysis tools to identify and investigate potential defects that might represent security vulnerabilities.

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 Windows 2000 was the most reliable, stable operating system Microsoft had ever shipped to that point. Much of this reliability came from maturity in the source code, extensive stress testing of the system, and automatic detection of many serious errors in drivers.

The reliability requirements for Windows XP were even more stringent. Microsoft used extensive manual and automatic code review to identify over 63,000 lines in the source files that might contain issues not detected by testing and then set about reviewing each area to verify that the code was indeed correct.

Windows XP extends driver verification to catch more subtle bugs, improves the facilities for catching programming errors in user-level code, and subjects third-party applications, drivers, and devices to a rigorous certification process.

Furthermore, Windows XP adds new facilities for monitoring the health of the PC, including downloading fixes for problems before they are encountered by users. The perceived reliability of Windows XP was also improved by making the graphical user interface easier to use through better visual design, simpler menus, and measured improvements in the ease with which users can discover how to perform common tasks.

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Windows and POSIX Application Compatibility

Windows XP is not only an update of Windows 2000; it is a replacement for Windows 95/98. Windows 2000 focused primarily on compatibility for business applications. The requirements for Windows XP include a much higher compatibility with consumer applications that run on Windows 95/98. Application compatibility is difficult to achieve because each application checks for a particular version of Windows, may have some dependence on the quirks of the implementation of APIs, may have latent application bugs that were masked in the previous system, and so forth.

 Windows XP introduces a compatibility layer that falls between applications and the Win32 APIs. This layer makes Windows XP look (almost) bug-for-bug compatible with previous versions of Windows. Windows XP, like earlier NT releases, maintains support for running many 16-bit applications using a thunking, or conversion, layer that translates 16-bit API calls into equivalent 32-bit calls. Similarly, the 64-bit version of Windows XP provides a thunking layer that translates 32-bit API calls into native 64-bit calls.

POSIX support in Windows XP is much improved. A new POSIX subsystem called Interix is now available. Most available UNIX-compatible software compiles and runs under Interix without modification.

High Performance

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Windows XP is designed to provide high performance on desktop systems (which are largely constrained by I/O performance), server systems (where the CPU is often the bottleneck), and large multithreaded and multiprocessor environments (where locking and cache-line management are key to scalability). High performance has been an increasingly important goal for Windows XP. Windows 2000 with SQL 2000 on Compaq hardware achieved top TPC-C numbers at the time it shipped.

To satisfy performance requirements, NT uses a variety of techniques, such as asynchronous I/O, optimized protocols for networks (for example, optimistic locking of distributed data, batching of requests), kernel-based graphics, and sophisticated caching of file-system data. The memory-management and synchronization algorithms are designed with an awareness of the performance considerations related to cache lines and multiprocessors.

Windows XP has further improved performance by reducing the code-path length in critical functions, using better algorithms and per-processor data structures, using memory coloring for NUMA (non-uniform memory access) machines, and implementing more scalable locking protocols, such as queued spinlocks. The new locking protocols help reduce system bus cycles and include lock-free lists and queues, use of atomic read-modify-write operations (like interlocked increment), and other advanced locking techniques.

The subsystems that constitute Windows XP communicate with one another efficiently by a local procedure call (LPC) facility that provides highperformance message passing. Except while executing in the kernel dispatcher, threads in the subsystems of Windows XP can be preempted by higher-priority threads. Thus, the system responds quickly to external events. In addition, Windows XP is designed for symmetrical multiprocessing; on a multiprocessor computer, several threads can run at the same time.


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 Extensibility refers to the capacity of an operating system to keep up with advances in computing technology. So that changes over time are facilitated, the developers implemented Windows XP using a layered architecture. The Windows XP executive runs in kernel or protected mode and provides the basic system services. On top of the executive, several server subsystems operate in user mode. Among them are environmental subsystems that emulate different operating systems. Thus, programs written for MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, and POSIX all run on Windows XP in the appropriate environment. Because of the modular structure, additional environmental subsystems can be added without affecting the executive.

 In addition, Windows XP uses loadable drivers in the I/O system, so new file systems, new kinds of I/O devices, and new kinds of networking can be added while the system is running. Windows XP uses a client-server model like the Mach operating system and supports distributed processing by remote procedure calls (RPCs) as defined by the Open Software Foundation.


 An operating system is portable if it can be moved from one hardware architecture to another with relatively few changes. Windows XP is designed to be portable. As is true of the UNIX operating system, the majority of the system is written in C and C++. Most processor-dependent code is isolated in a dynamic link library (DLL) called the hardware-abstraction layer (HAL).

A DLL is a file that is mapped into a process's address space such that any functions in the DLL appear to be part of the process. The upper layers of the Windows XP kernel depend on the HAL interfaces rather than on the underlying hardware, bolstering Windows XP portability. The HAL manipulates hardware directly, isolating the rest of Windows XP from hardware differences among the platforms on which it runs.

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Although for market reasons Windows 2000 shipped only on Intel IA32- compatible platforms, it was also tested on IA32 and DEC Alpha platforms until just prior to release to ensure portability. Windows XP runs on IA32-compatible and IA64 processors. Microsoft recognizes the importance of multiplatform development and testing, since, as a practical matter, maintaining portability is a matter of use it or lose it.

International Support

Windows XP is also designed for international and multinational use. It provides support for different locales via the national-language-support (NLS) API. The NLS API provides specialized routines to format dates, time, and money in accordance with various national customs.

 String comparisons are specialized to account for varying character sets. UNICODE is Windows XP's native character code. Windows XP supports ANSI characters by converting them to UNICODE characters before manipulating them (8-bit to 16-bit conversion). System text strings are kept in resource files that can be replaced to localize the system for different languages. Multiple locales can be used concurrently, which is important to multilingual individuals and businesses.

Rating - 3/5

Rating - 3/5