Work by Microsoft’s R&D group played a part in revamping Windows, a researcher said Friday, but not all the toil made it into Vista.
Microsoft Research contributed to the SuperFetch effort, a feature within Vista that predicts which applications are used when, then pre-loads them so that they’re instantly available. “As part of a long term set of projects, we want to teach the computer to learn from users to make the machine more proactive,” says Eric Horvitz, a principal researcher with Microsoft’s R&D as well as the president-elect of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. “We want to use the system’s idle time to make things punchier.”
Horvitz and his colleagues developed the core algorithms that make up the predictive part of SuperFetch, the technology that plays Nostradamus for the operating system. Their work, says Horvitz, was able to predict which applications users would open by time of day and also by day of the week.
Convincing the Vista OS developers to take their word for it — and their work — was tougher. “They’re cheapskates,” says Horvitz. “They’re cheap in giving up memory and processor cycles. And they were dubious. So we ran the predictions against real workloads from customers to show that we were [making] good predictions.”
Microsoft Research obtained real-world desktop workloads from the company’s “Customer Love” program, where hundreds of volunteers worldwide let Microsoft grab information from their systems on usability and usage patterns.
According to Horvitz, SuperFetch can accurately predict up to the next three applications that the user is likely to launch at any given time.
Pre-fetching applications to speed up access — or at least boost the perceived speed of a PC — is nothing new, acknowledged Horvitz, but SuperFetch is a first for Windows. “Most of those [earlier pre-fetch solutions] are focused on low-level decisions. What’s happening here [with SuperFetch] is at the level of user modeling. It’s learning about sequences of actions in a context-sensitive way.”
Microsoft, Windows Vista