Home At Last, Parallel File Transfer is Coming to Windows 8

At Last, Parallel File Transfer is Coming to Windows 8

One of the most annoying “features” of Microsoft Windows since the days of the “MS-DOS Executive” window has been its dreadful slowness with everyday file transfer. The more files you have to move from place to place or between devices – whether it’s a batch of photos, or a crammed folder full of legal documents, or a stash of document proofs for publication, the longer it takes for all of them to be moved in one round. It’s faster, but harder, to break them up into smaller batches. And when the files are huge to begin with – say, a DVR show recording from Windows Media Center – it takes longer to transfer the file between two computers over the network than it does to watch the show.

The bug note on this appears finally to have been received by Microsoft’s engineering teams working on Windows 8 (even though the first note on this is probably dated 1988). In a video released for the company’s engineering blog yesterday, program manager Alex Simons demonstrated how Windows 8 users will be able not only to process multiple transfers simultaneously, but can for the very first time see a heuristic performance graph tracing the transfer processes as they happen.

“Now each copy job shows the speed of data transfer, the transfer rate trend, and how much data is left to transfer,” writes Windows group president Steven Sinofsky. “While this is not designed for benchmarking, in many cases it can provide a quick and easy way to assess what is going on for a particular job.”

As the graphs from this demonstration show, of course the transfer rate for each copy batch slows down when new ones are added. But it doesn’t seem to be slowing down unreasonably – for instance, down to 25% or slower with two, or 8% or slower with three.

Perhaps less annoying over the years has been Windows’ inaccuracy with predicting the time a large copy operation will be completed. It’s an accuracy rate that rivals that of a weekend substitute weatherman in Oklahoma to predict high temperatures in March – it’s all over the map. “2 hours remaining… 43 seconds remaining… 3 hours 19 minutes remaining…”

Sinofsky said the unpredictability of future processes in Windows is pretty baffling anyway, so the design team decided to just forget it and present some other kind of information that may be more meaningful to the user, like how well the process is going so far.

Estimating the time remaining to complete a copy is nearly impossible to do with any precision because there are many unpredictable and uncontrollable variables involved. For instance, how much network bandwidth will be available for the length of the copy job? Will your anti-virus software spin up and start scanning files? Will another application need to access the hard drive? Will the user start another copy job?

Rather than invest a lot of time coming up with a low confidence estimate that would be only slightly improved over the current one, we focused on presenting the information we were confident about in a useful and compelling way. This makes the most reliable information we have available to you so you can make more informed decisions.

Many high-volume Windows users today resort to using third-party tools like Total Commander, capable of handling large background file transfers on their own without slowing down the system (and without, as Windows Explorer is still prone to do, crashing).

One of the other improvements to file transfer previewed yesterday deals with photographs. Many end users like to install third-party tools like Photoshop Elements just so they can keep their photos straight, but Windows 8 is expanding its functionality for reconciling file conflicts for photos.

As it stands now in Windows 7, when you move a photo into a folder that contains a photo with the same name, the file manager stops cold and asks you whether to overwrite the old one or keep both. If you’ve got a few hundred photos in this batch, this could take some time (although you could check the box at the bottom that says, “Do this with the remaining (x) conflicts.” With the new system, you’re shown the entire list of conflicts, and given an opportunity to check which items you want overwritten… or to check one box and overwrite them all.

Microsoft’s new Build conference is in just over two weeks’ time, this time in Anaheim, where we’re certain to see a truckload of similar tweaks to the operating system.

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