Windows Vista SuperFetch
Most PC users are plagued more and more by chronic slowdowns the older their PC gets. Some of this, probably most of this is due to spyware, but a vast majority of this is caused by software loading into the system tray. The tray is an area in which a program can run without having to have an interface, or appear in the taskbar. This was a great idea with the introduction of Windows 95, but in the era of many computer users running greater than 1 GB of RAM it seems un-necessary, or at least that it should be redesigned in Vista.
Microsoft is attempting to remedy the problem of slowness as well as acknowledge the larger amounts of RAM in currently shipping systems by building a technology called SuperFetch. Which is a fancy caching program designed to notice which software you use most frequently, and load that into memory at start-up. This can improve the percieved performance benefit to some users, but probably would end up being a technology that would get in the way of most power users. It would in a way take users back to the heady days of Windows 3.11 when we could choose how much system memory was to be dedicated to the applications, and how much was to be reserved for hard drive cache. This system would behave in much the same way, but instead of the user being in control, the system would adjust automatically.
In attemping to understand why the system tray is strange, and probably should be either redesigned or removed, it is a good idea to look at how Apple as well as Microsoft handle GUI-less applications. In Windows developers have the ability to create full applications that run in the background without disrupting the user, or appearing on their display. These programs are known as services. Probably the most widely used service is the IIS service. IIS, if you don't know already, is Microsoft's web server product. It is similar to Apache, except it has the ability to process scripts built in to the server. Whereas with Apache it is necessary to include modules for this functionality. As a result Apache is much more flexible, which could change if Microsoft is truly to build PHP support into IIS. But I digress. Some applications such as Apache for windows run as a service, and also include a system tray icon for management. In Mac OS X applications without a GUI typically either run without any notification to the user, or place a small icon in the upper right of the screen, such porgrams are fairly rare, since most applications on the Macintosh load themselves into memory at their first use and remain there. Since it is quite unnecessary to turn the Macintosh off, or to reboot most of the time, your programs always launch insanely quickly. It would be best for Microsoft to implement a similar type of system. This would minimize the overhead necessary for keeping frequently used programs in memory, and would be vastly less complex.
Another potential solution could be to automatically dump programs from the system tray if they aren't being actively manipulated by the user, or performing some operation on the system. This would do two things beneficial to the system. First, it would free system memory, handles, and other resources for use with software that is actually doing something. Second, it would discourage developers from using the system tray as a place to put their icons. To supplement this model, Microsoft should encourage developers to write services for Windows as opposed to tray software. The way it could work is that the first time this happened, the system would notify the user that it was closing the applications and ask them if they wanted to be notified in the future. That way the user would remain in control. On systems with less than 512 MB of RAM this simple system would pay back sometimes enormous benefits, reducing the idle footprint of the OS from around 400 MB on some systems back to a managable 256 MB. Microsoft is over-engineering this one, they should review the K.I.S.S. software development methodology.