Microsoft shows tools used to debug Windows XP

At a seminar at the company's Silicon Valley Campus on Tuesday, one of the company's engineers gave demonstrations of tools that had been used to debug both the raw source code for the operating system, and the actual compiled programs.

The company began using a program called Vulcan in 1998 to optimise binary files that had been compiled from source code, but in early 2000, the company began running an improved version, during the creation of both Windows XP and Office XP, that allowed Vulcan to optimise and debug these files while they were running.

"Vulcan is also ideal for running on things like servers, where they're not going to let you take it down, because it probes for problems without slowing the system down," said Amitabh Srivastava, distinguished engineer, Microsoft research at the company's Programmer Productivity Research Centre.

Vulcan works in combination with Magellan, a central storage facility, where the information Vulcan gathers can then be studied. "The probe spits out information to Vulcan, where the engineer then looks for what he wants," he said.

Using the combination of the two tools, engineers can observe everything from performance and timing to which parts of the program are more efficient than others, Srivastava said.

Srivastava also demonstrated the improved versions of Prefix and Prefast, the tools used to debug the code when it is still in its source code form.

"When we started on the creation of Windows 2000, they were still new tools, we used them much more heavily in the creation of XP," Srivastava said.

The company's current plans include releasing Prefast to the public, to let developers use the tool.

Overall, the main difference between previous versions of the Windows operating system and Windows XP comes down to reliability, Srivastava said.

"We're entering enterprise space, and .NET, so the bar for reliability is much higher than before," he said. "We focused more on the reliability, than on trying to add new features to XP."

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