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back to article Microsoft preparing for diskless Windows 8 PCs

Microsoft has imagined future computers that don't include onboard disks, but do boot from external USB 3.0 devices, and has prepared Windows 8 so that it can install and operate in such environments. Microsoft's Michael Niehaus, a senior product manager and the lead developer for the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, revealed the …

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Anonymous Coward

Copy copy copy copy Apple!

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Stop

shouldn't feed the trolls

but Linux has done this for 10 years plus. Apple yet again didn't invent it.

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Mushroom

Yeah right...apple, schmapple

I was running diskless Windows 3.1 across the network back in the early 90s before the product bloat made it impossible. Nothing to do with Apple or Linux.

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Bod

Prior art by miles

Remeber the Spectrum, C64, BBC Micro, even the Archimedes...

OS in ROM, boot in a second or two. No disc required (though the Archimedes generally used a disc to stick all the wider apps on but doesn't need one, as I've found with my initial play with RISC OS on a Pi which is currently not seeing a "disc", yet the OS loads fine from what is equivalent to the old ROM just on SD card instead).

Definitely need to be going back to the core & kernel of the OS loading off a fast Flash device and should not need updating that often. Anything else, up to you how/where you want to store it. Flash, SSD, hard disc, even the cloud!

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HMB

Apple Perfects, Never Invents

You know I'm not aware of Apple inventing ANYTHING.

It is a leader at taking something done rough, and smoothing the edges into a sublime shape, whether it be UI, human machine interfaces etc...

But invent? GUI - Stole, Multitouch - Stole and pretended they did it themselves.. same with pinch to zoom.

They are shit hot at implementing an old idea in a fantastic, highly developed, slick way and I give them all the credit for that, but invent? I'm struggling, genuinely struggling.

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Flame

Apple

You said Apple, Burn Burn

P.S I agree with the comments, but I want to flame you

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"Copy copy copy copy Apple!"

What has apple got to do with it?

I'd say they rather copied the idea from RISC OS which is a truely DISKLESS OS. Since it is in ROM. In fact smartphone OS's are diskless OS's too.

I think booting a computer from a USB-stick is a very good idea. I've been doing it for at least 2 years now with Puppy Linux and Ubuntu).

I fail to see whats so 'newsworthy' on something that's been done already in 1992 (and well before that since the majority of 8-bit homecomputers had their 'OS' in rom) by the less mainstream US/UK brightest minds or by the geniuses at e.g. PendriveLinux.com (and the likes).

It must be my old age, I guess.

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Bronze badge

Linux wasn't first either

There were several BSD and UNIX systems booting from the network long before Linux was even a twinkle in linus' eye. Back when a 10 MB disk was a major investment and punch cards/paper tape ruled the earth.

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Re: Yeah right...apple, schmapple

> I was running diskless Windows 3.1 across the network back in the early 90s

I was running diskless ICL DRS20 machines (8085 based) across the network (micronet) back in 1980. Even this derived from the mid-70s networked ICL/Cogar 1500 series.

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Re: shouldn't feed the trolls

Way older than that. Datapoint (long gone now) had machines that booted and ran off the local area network 30 (yup, thirty) years ago.

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Mushroom

Re Copy copy copy copy Apple!

That post makes me wish that downvotes were functionally equivalent to bullets.

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Anonymous Coward

Older than RISC

Diskless OS was the original OS, mainframe terminals. Client-server is on a 30 year march back to the mainframe architecture... or cloud.

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Many possible solutions

I have an old USB memory stick that has a 'secure' hidden partition that is manipulated by a supplier utility. This reports itself as a separate drive when plugged in. It's definitely possible, all that's needed is for everybody to agree to a standard. The possession of patents in this area may be a sticking point.

Why not go for external SSD drives connected by a short SATA cable?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Many possible solutions

the standard already exists, SD cards have the ability to use a small chunk of space for storing information and code, typically this is used for helping to speed up data rates by prefetching data and having frequent access lists, its also used for storying encryption keys and such like, what i dont know however is how much this space actually is, the remainder of the SD card can be partitioned as any other device.

What you would have is a a secure storage system that is encrypted and can only be accessed via the device that made it, formatting the secure section renders the whole of the SD card useless

its actually very very handy and was used on Windows phones that had removable storage (faked as hidden (HD7))

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"Special hardware” will therefore be needed to.........." whatever

Er, no thanks!

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"Special hardware” will therefore be needed

Not sure I understand why exactly.

Is Microsoft going to make custom USB sticks with 4 partitions built in? Why do they run dangerously hot?

Sounds dodgy

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@ Mystic Megabyte

"Special hardware” will therefore be needed to.........."

Wot? You don't like that small holograpic sticker with Microsoft logo on that shiny USB stick then? ;-)

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Can't be partitioned...?

"“USBs report themselves as fixed disk,” Niehaus told the crowd in his session, and therefore cannot be partitioned."

What is this guy smoking?

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HMB

Re: Can't be partitioned...?

I know, I mostly use Windows, but if I want to partition an USB flash drive I need to pop into Ubuntu, WTF Microsoft?

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Re: Can't be partitioned...?

"What is this guy smoking?"

I reckon the cellophane wrappings on those Microsoft Windows packages ;-)

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Devil

“USBs report themselves as fixed disk,” Niehaus told the crowd in his session, and therefore cannot be partitioned. “Special hardware” will therefore be needed to

Horse shit! Just because windows is brain dead and wont let you partition a USB stick doesnt mean you need special hardware, they just need to rewrite their usb removable disk driver so it isnt so stupid, partitioned usb drives work just fine under linux.

I think what they really meant is we wont let your drive work unless you pay us.

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah, that's what I was thinking - I'm fairly sure I had Linux booting off a 2GB USB stick (actually a 2GB SD card in a USB holder) and it worked OK. Reason I did that was to save taking 2 laptops on a business trip, took the work laptop and used the SD card to boot up Linux so I could do some website work I was doing - had the LAMP stack running & everything.

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Boffin

You can partition USB sticks

It's just the Windows formatter doesn't let you. It will recognise them though.

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Pint

Re: You can partition USB sticks

Weird! I could have SWORN my linux XBMC boots off an UBUNTU core USB with EFI and has multiple partition USB pen. It has a system partition, SWAP partition and a data partition. I didnt even need EFI (I needed to run the setup a second time to FORCE it to use EFI) - I only did it so I had experience if I ever dual booted W7 and linux on EFI.

I must have been dreaming when I set that up.

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Boffin

Re: You can partition USB sticks

You sure about that? I haven't tried it under Windows 7 or 8, but under XP at least it would only see the first partition as I recall.

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Re: You can partition USB sticks

I've partitioned one with Disk Utility on the Mac and Windows read it.

After checking Google maybe Disk Utility flipped the "removable disk" bit when setting up a partitioned USB stick. Lexar's BootIt seems to be often quoted as a Windows tool which can do the same thing.

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You're imagining things... really... ask any Microsoft employee!

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking - I'm fairly sure I had Linux booting off a 2GB USB stick"

Naaah, you're just imagining things. Ask anyone at Microsoft.... you should stop smoking pot and enter the real world... you know, the world with ivory towers, Santa Claus and lying bitches walking besides their shoes.

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Re: You can partition USB sticks

"I must have been dreaming when I set that up."

Yes, you are. Ask anyone at Microsoft. You NEED special hardware for that. It's called a brain and the engineers at Microsoft are currently still working on that! :-)

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Boffin

Re: You can partition USB sticks

There is that - if you have a utility that can flip the removable disk bit then Windows doesn't know any different and will happily support multiple partitions. I didn't know those were available for USB sticks but I've used them on CF drives in embedded systems for the same reason.

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Re: You can partition USB sticks

You can get Windows XP to boot from a USB stick, but it needs some hacking. You need the cfadisks.sys driver which was written by Hitachi for microdrives and makes Windows think the USB stick is a fixed disk rather than removable. This allows you to partition the disk.

You also need to edit the registry so that the USB storage drivers are loaded on boot rather than once Windows is loaded.

I've got a stick with several Linux distros on it (puppy etc.) as well as a Truecrypt encrypted Windows partition, with a bunch of work stuff on it (VPN etc.) so I can use a colleague's laptop if mine dies. Works a treat, although I'll admit it took some setting up.

It doesn't work with Windows 7 though, at least not the 64-bit version due to the lack of driver support. Not that I've tried too hard. XP does what I need.

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Unhappy

I hate recovery partitions

Title says it all really. Annoying disk eating things. I would rather just re-install from a DVD or USB device and have the drive space back.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I hate recovery partitions "I would rather just re-install from a DVD"

So would any sensible person, but the MS terms and conditions forced on volume PC builders who want lowest cost for their Windows tax make it prohibitively expensive to supply recovery media with every device. Plus a recovery partition is easier/cheaper for the vendors even without MS Ts+Cs - nothing to order, nothing to make, nothing to stock, nothing to go out of date as software images are updated.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I hate recovery partitions

well, that's you - I'd rather the system healed itself without a reinstall. This is the 21st century after all

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Thumb Up

Re: I hate recovery partitions "I would rather just re-install from a DVD"

Plus a recovery partition allows the manufacturer to make it easy for the end user to reinstall their crapware when it inevitably breaks Windows 6 months down the line.

IT systems engineers (and those with a little knowledge) probably get around the problem by getting a new machine out of the box - powering it up to make sure it works, then immediatly reboot the machine, formatting the harddisk and starting a fresh with the barest build Microsoft will allow you to install.

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I love recovery partitions...

...for home users. Relatives mess up their Dell, I tell them to hit F11 for whatever and do what it says on the screen. Problem fixed. Saved me days.

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Re: I hate recovery partitions "I would rather just re-install from a DVD"

Recovery partitions don't work when the hard drive acts up.

Where's your backup? On the same physical drive.

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Re: I hate recovery partitions "I would rather just re-install from a DVD"

"Where's your backup? On the same physical drive."

... and then it's called a whackUp :o)

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4 Partitions

I may be wrong here, but doesn't this mean that a Windows 8 device will require 4 primary partitions?

And if so, how does one create a 5th to install another OS (or indeed just to manage data better)?

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Re: 4 Partitions

The guid partition layout thats part of the EFI standard gives you as many entries as you want. there is no concept of primary and secondary partitions. The old MBR layout is only good for disks up to 2Gb anyway. (Recently bumped into this issue)

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Re: 4 Partitions

Thanks for that response. I'm glad that issue will finally be put to bed.

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Re: 4 Partitions

The old MBR layout is only good for disks up to 2Gb anyway.

Er, shouldn't that be 2TB ?

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Re: 4 Partitions

Yes, your correct, its 2Tb.

Mea Culpa.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 4 Partitions

"how does one create a 5th to install another OS (or indeed just to manage data better)?"

One doesn't, neither will Windows co-exist with dual-boot :)

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Anonymous Coward

“USBs ... cannot be partitioned."

"“USBs report themselves as fixed disk,” Niehaus told the crowd in his session, and therefore cannot be partitioned."

This is so wrong it's laughable, as many many many real people will know from personal experience, having seen it done. The "journalist" and "editor " (?) here faithfully reporting it as fact do themselves no favours.

I've seen this "impossibility" of partitioned USB devices on so many USB sticks that I can't even remember the brand names of most of them, or even when I first saw it, but this week I am mostly using a rather ancient SanDisk Cruzer with a pretty orange light that flashes interestingly when used with a Linux. I've also seen USB-attached disk drives with partitions (are they conceptually different from memory-on-a-stick)?

Or is this "new" feature actually based on something specific to USB3, in which case a mention would have been nice?

Or is this maybe something to do with MS's desire for Trusted Computing and cryptographic boot protection (e.g. no more unauthorised "rescue disks" that can trivially bypass NTFS security?), and MS don't want to let on to the real reason they're spouting this rubbish?

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What's in the system partition then?

You can make a USB key take a partition structure with the right tool. (Involves flipping the bit that marks it as removable).

Presumably '“USBs report themselves as fixed disk,” Niehaus told the crowd' should have read "USBs report themselves as removable,"

As for external storage running 'dangerously' hot, do they mean a risk of fire?

From an enterprise security standpoint, I can see Windows-To-Go as a great idea. Easy to lose a laptop, less easy to lose a USB key attached to your keys (plus the added step of having to remove the key before stowing the laptop). Perhaps you could even boot Windows 8 from the USB storage in your phone (wirelessly)? That would be ideal.

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FAIL

Microsoft reports success...

... in overcoming self imposed limitations. Whoop-de-do.

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Recovery partitions are alright...

*IF* that partition contains a vanilla install, and *if* the partition size is sensible (eg don't have a 20gb partition for a 4gb install image).

However, what it normally means is it's filled with bloatware, desktops etc from the off, so you spend the first hour post-install getting rid of it all.

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FAIL

Still haven't separated OS and Data

In Linux, one of the greatest things of all time for me is that I can have a separate partition for /home so if the OS goes tits up, or I just fancy a change, I don't have to hoik all my data off the machine before I re-do it.

With Windows this has always been a problem, and it sounds like it will remain a problem well in to the future.

Whenever someone comes to me with a bent machine that needs a rebuild, I spend shed loads of time taking their data off the machine and then putting it back on again.

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Re: Still haven't separated OS and Data

[sigh]

There's nothing that stops you doing that, and any half sensible system admin will do so. Normally I'd put it on the network, but the ridiculous bloat in the profile of recent versions is making that problematic, esp over a WAN.

Ogf course there are apps about that assume C drive for the data, but increasingly few IME.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Still haven't separated OS and Data

not sure what you're on about there? there are several ways you CAN separate your data in windows (change the special folder locations or set up a junction to c:\users etc etc etc) , just like you say you CAN in linux.

Its not done by default in linux, just like it isnt in windows.

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