Whatever happened to Windows DreamScene?

Death of Ultimate Extras is the last gasp of the Longhorn vision


The Ultimate edition of Vista promised exciting extras and special deals that it never delivered.

In contrast, Windows 7 Ultimate edition has all the features of all the other editions, but the stepped approach to the Windows 7 editions means that the much cheaper Professional edition has all the features of Home Premium, so there are far fewer features you can only get from Ultimate.

The main attraction of Windows 7 Ultimate is that it's the only way for a home user to get the BitLocker whole-disk encryption that Microsoft still keeps for enterprise users, along with VHD boot, DirectAccess and multiple language support.

Ultimate extras

OTHER EXTRAS: Windows Vista Ultimate Extras also included a backup service for BitLocker keys and the Tinker game

With so few extra features in Ultimate it's no surprise Microsoft UK's Laurence Painell calls it a "niche" version: "it's very much for users that want absolutely everything," he says.

Originally Microsoft talked about only putting Ultimate on new PCs and not selling it separately at all.

Disappointed Vista Ultimate users think they should get a good upgrade deal to Windows 7 Ultimate; Microsoft seems to think they should use the good deals on Home Premium or Professional. After all, you can't keep the Ultimate Extras even if you upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate.

No more DreamScenes

Suppose you really like Microsoft Tinker, Texas Hold'em and the animated backgrounds of DreamScenes? You're out of luck.

When you run the Windows 7 installer, even when you choose Upgrade rather than Custom, the Compatibility Report warns you that the Ultimate Extras won't survive the upgrade.

The games will vanish and your animated DreamScenes background will freeze into a static image; the waves no longer ripple and the icicles no longer drip.


MELTING AWAY: The icicle drips if you're running DreamScenes… That's it

Upgrade warning

NO EXTRAS: The Windows 7 installer warns you that Ultimate Extras will be uninstalled

Why does the Windows 7 upgrade uninstall DreamScenes and the other extras? "Ultimate Extras are not available for Windows 7," Microsoft told us. But why not just leave them on upgraded machines? "DreamScenes is not compatible with Windows 7," Microsoft responds.

We can't tell if that's because there's something in DreamScenes that won't work or – much more likely - that testing something as trivial as animated backgrounds would have taken away time better spent making Windows 7 faster, leaner and easier to use.

Not in the Windows 7 philosophy

DreamScenes doesn't fit the Windows 7 emphasis on improving performance and battery life and getting the idle CPU use as low as possible.

On a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo Lenovo ThinkPad T400 with no apps running, Vista still hits around 20% CPU usage; 3% of that is the Desktop Windows Manager and 12% is Explorer – which means DreamScenes is keeping the processor running when it doesn't need to be.

DreamScenes performance

RESOURCE HOG: With DreamScenes on in Vista, the CPU is running at 20% even with no apps loaded; in Windows 7 idle performance is much lower

Certainly, the Windows team didn't want to distract themselves with what corporate VP Bill Mitchell promised (back at CES 2007) would be "a continual stream of extras… on an equal basis with all the features that came in the box… as a first step to giving you more and more value over time."

Back in February, Senior VP Bill Veghte said "our new approach to planning and building Windows doesn't have the capacity to continue to deliver features outside the regular release cycle."

And when Windows 7 was first announced, Mitchell's replacement Mike Nash told us that the problem with Ultimate Extras was "the confusion between what things we deliver as Ultimate Extras and what as part of the Windows Live experience".

Hardly ultimate

The other problem with the Ultimate Extras was that they were more extra than ultimate.

The GroupShot photo fixing tool shown at CES was never released, although the same techniques are used in the AutoCollage tool (http://research.microsoft.com/autocollage/) from the same Microsoft Research team (they're also behind the background removal tool in Office 2010).

You can get poker and puzzle games anywhere. And DreamScenes was a pale shadow of the video composition and animation originally promised in Longhorn as part of the Aurora interface, built on top of Avalon, the original version of the Windows Presentation Foundation.


STATIC: Upgrade to Windows 7 and the icicle no longer drips; DreamScenes is gone

Aurora was going to run multiple animations without any performance impact, using DirectX and Direct3D to drive the graphics card rather than the CPU.

It was going to render XAML (Microsoft's graphics markup language) natively on the desktop, in preview panes, in Explorer and anywhere else in the OS – including the logon screen.

Aurora was demonstrated at the 2003 PDC, but when the Desktop Windows manager showed up in the Longhorn builds distributed at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in 2004, Aurora wasn't there and it never appeared.

And late in the development cycle, the original Avalon was ripped out and rewritten as a much less ambitious graphics layer – without the underlying architecture or the animation support.

Compared to that, losing DreamScenes is pretty trivial.

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