Microsoft has been working on improving the boot process of the Windows operating system ever since the company started working on Windows 7. Windows XP users who upgraded or purchased a PC with Windows Vista noticed longer boot times, which Microsoft managed to reduce again to XP levels in Windows 7. Improvements continued to flow into the boot process, and thanks to new hardware like Solid State Drives and UEFI, PCs with Windows 8 boot a lot faster than their older versions. It still depends a lot on the hardware, but Microsoft managed to boot into Windows 8 in seven seconds on PCs with UEFI and SSDs.
Everything is golden if you want to boot in the operating system, but what if you do not want to do that? What if you want to open recovery and repair options by pressing the F8 key? Microsoft notes in a new blog post that Windows users have 200ms for that, and that the fastest typers in the company managed to hit a key roughly every 250ms. That’s a problem for a number of reasons, from Microsoft employees frantically hammering away on the F8 key to get it right, and restarting if not, to less time for information to be displayed on the screen.
Microsoft is addressing the issue in three different ways:
- A single menu for every boot option
- Loading the boot menu automatically when problems are recognized by Windows 8
- Options to load the boot options menu from within the Windows 8 operating system.
A single boot menu
The core vision behind the boot options menu is to create a single place for every option that affects the startup behavior of the Windows 8 PC.
The main boot menu displays the following options:
- Continue – Exit and continue to Windows 8
- Use a device – Use a USB drive, network connection, or Windows recovery DVD
- Use another operating system – Continue with another installed version of Windows
- Troubleshoot – Refresh or reset your PC, or use advanced tools
- Turn off your PC
The advanced options display links to System Restore, the Command Prompt, System Image Recovery, Automatic Repair, UEFI Firmware Settings on UEFI systems, and Windows Startup Settings
Loading the boot menu automatically when problems are recognized by Windows 8
Windows 8 basically comes with diagnostic tools that analyze the operating system’s startup and operations. When diagnostics notices issues, for instance if the PC fails to boot into Windows 8, or of a faulty driver has been installed, it will automatically display the Windows 8 boot menu.
In Windows 8, this automatic failover behavior will take you directly to the boot options menu whenever there is a problem that would otherwise keep your PC from loading Windows. This even includes cases where it appears (to Windows) that boot has succeeded, but in actuality the PC is unusable. An example of how this could occur would be a faulty driver installation that is causing the main logon screen to appear completely blank. Windows may not be aware that the screen is blank, but anyone looking at the screen knows this immediately. We now algorithmically detect when this has occurred across multiple boots, and automatically boot directly into the boot options menu inside the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). Since the source image for WinRE contains drivers and files that are kept separate from the main Windows installation, it’s not affected by any software changes and is a reliable environment to begin troubleshooting from the boot options menu.
Options to load the boot options menu from within the Windows 8 operating system
Sometimes you may want to display the boot options even if the system does not detect issues. You may want to boot to another device, or make changes to the UEFI configuration. You can configure Windows 8 to display the boot menu on the next start of the operating system.
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.
Other options to get Windows 8 to display the boot menu are:
- Shift-clicking on the Restart link under Power
- Running the command shutdown /r /o from the command line
Can a operating system boot to fast? Not really if you ask me. It is great that Microsoft continues to work on improvements in this area. We will hopefully see more of the new boot menu in the Windows 8 Release Preview, which is rumored to come out on June 1.
You can read the full announcement over at the Building Windows 8 blog