Microsoft may have overdone making the boot time of the Windows 8 operating system faster as the company apparently has stumbled upon an unconventional problem: the Windows 8 OS boots too fast for users to interrupt it.
Microsoft has demoed since last year the blazing fast boot time of Windows 8.
Why is this phenomenally fast boot time a problem? There may be times when you want to interrupt the boot sequence to go to the advanced boot options menu where you can tell Windows 8 to start in Safe Mode and the like.
The problem is, with a computer equipped with a fast Solid-State Drive, the boot time of Windows 8 is less than 7 seconds.
According to Microsoft in a post on the Building Windows 8 blog, “Most of the decisions about what will happen in boot are over in the first 2-3 seconds – after that, booting is just about getting to Windows as quickly as possible.”
In these 2 to 3 seconds, firmware initialization is done. POST is less than 2 seconds, Microsoft says and “and the time allowed for the Windows boot manager to detect an alternate boot path” is less than 200 milliseconds “on some systems.”
This means you’ll literally have to press F8 or F2 beginning when you press the power button on your Windows 8 system to go to the advanced boot options menu. You’ll be able to get there with some luck and perfect timing but that isn’t any way to build an OS.
In the post authored by Microsoft’s Chris Clark, he gives this example scenario:
“We have SSD-based UEFI systems where the ‘F8 window’ is always less than 200 milliseconds. No matter how fast your fingers are, there is no way to reliably catch a 200 millisecond event. So you tap. I remember walking the halls and hearing people frantically trying to catch the F8 window – ‘tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap’ – only to watch them reboot several times until they managed to finally get a tap inside the F8 window.”
In fact, the fastest “tappers” among the people working at Microsoft “could, at best, sustain repeated tapping at about a 250ms frequency,” Clark said.
This Windows 8 attribute presents problems in a myriad of situations discussed by the software giant.
For example, even if Windows 8 is booting correctly, you may want to interrupt the boot sequence to boot from a different device like a USB, changed the firmware’s BIOS setup options, or run tools from within the protected Windows Recovery Environment image.
You may also want to interrupt boot to troubleshoot a problem with the OS. In fact, Microsoft has previously outlined ways to avoid reinstalling Windows after a problem occurs. These new features include Reset your PC and Refresh your PC. However, booting into the Recovery Environment is limited by the fast boot time.
These are just some of the examples Microsoft gave as to why a user may want to interrupt Windows 8 booting.
Microsoft then goes on to detail a three-part solution to this problem. According to the software giant:
We ultimately solved these problems with a combination of three different solutions. Together they create a unified experience and solve the scenarios without needing to interrupt boot with a keystroke:
- We pulled together all the options into a single menu – the boot options menu – that has all the troubleshooting tools, the developer-focused options for Windows startup, methods for accessing the firmware’s BIOS setup, and a straightforward method for booting to alternate devices such as USB drives.
- We created failover behaviors that automatically bring up the boot options menu (in a highly robust and validated environment) whenever there is a problem that would keep the PC from booting successfully into Windows.
- Finally, we created several straightforward methods to easily reach the boot options menu, even when nothing is wrong with Windows or boot. Instead of these menus and options being “interrupt-driven,” they are triggered in an intentional way that is much easier to accomplish successfully.
Essentially, all those options which were previously spread across different places for troubleshooting, development and changing startup options have now been integrated into one place by Microsoft. Furthermore, this menu where all these options have been integrated will automatically appear if something is preventing Windows 8 from starting. Microsoft is also giving more ways to access this menu even if there isn’t anything preventing Windows 8 from booting.
Detailing how you can access the new boot options menu Microsoft’s Chris Clark wrote:
“The primary method of reaching the boot options is from Advanced startup on the General tab of PC settings. You can get to PC settings from the Settings charm, or by searching from the Start screen using specific search terms, such as boot, startup, safe mode, firmware, BIOS, or several others. On the General tab, you’ll see a short description of the options that will be available in the boot options menu, as well as a Restart now button. The descriptions shown on this screen are fully dynamic, and will change based on the hardware, firmware, and software available on your specific Windows 8 PC.”
Another way to reach the boot options menu is through the shutdown menu. According to Clark, pressing and holding the Shift Key while clicking “Restart” on the shutdown menu will bring you to the boot options menu once the system has restarted.
“The reason that we added this Shift+Restart option to the shutdown menu was because the boot options need to be available even when no one has signed in to the PC,” he said.
One thing to note, however, is that these new changes will affect only machines which have UEFI BIOS. Clark said that “legacy hardware that was made before Windows 8 will not have these new UEFI-provided menu features (booting to firmware settings and booting directly to a device). The firmware on these devices will continue to support this functionality from the POST screen as it did in the past (using messages such as ‘Press F2 for Setup’).”
According to him, these Windows 8 systems will have a slower POST time thus making it possible to hit a key before the system has gone through POST.
Image 1 from wwarby on Flickr (CC)