Microsoft has had to come up with a new way for Windows 8 users to boot from USB drives because the operating system's start-up time is too quick for the old method, the company has said.
Since Windows 95, users have been able to press a function key such as F8 or F12 during start-up, to access advanced boot menus, debugging options and other features. This makes it possible to, for example, boot from a USB stick rather than the main Windows installation.
However, Windows 8 simply boots up too quickly for this to be feasible anymore, user experience programme manager Chris Clark said in a blog post on Wednesday. As a result, he explained, users who want to boot from a USB stick will have to turn their Windows 8 PC on, then restart it in a special mode.
"If the entire length of boot passes in just seven seconds, the individual portions that comprise the boot sequence go by almost too quickly to notice (much less, interrupt)," Clark said. "Most of the decisions about what will happen in boot are over in the first two to three seconds — after that, booting is just about getting to Windows as quickly as possible."
The first solution to the problem was to pull all the options for which one might want to interrupt a boot into a single menu. This new boot options menu includes troubleshooting tools, developer-focused options, BIOS setup access and "a straightforward method for booting to alternate devices such as USB drives", Clark wrote.
The simplest way of accessing Windows 8's boot options menu is to hold down the shift key while clicking 'Restart'.
"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," Clark wrote. "In the old hardware model that allowed keystrokes in boot, anyone with physical access to the PC could press a key to interrupt boot and use the available boot options. To preserve those scenarios, we needed a way for someone who hasn't signed in (but is still physically using the PC) to use the boot options menu."
Another method is to go into 'PC settings', then the 'General' tab, then 'Advanced startup'. There the user will find a 'Restart now' button that begins the normal restart process, but pauses it after the shutdown part. The 'boot options' menu then fades into view.
"You can even use this menu to quickly boot into a second Windows installation if you want to," Clark wrote. "Since Windows pauses the restart sequence to show the boot options menu, this is one of the fastest ways to boot to a second OS."
For those happy using the command prompt, Microsoft has also added a new flag to shutdown.exe, namely '/o', which only works alongside the '/r' restart flag.
"We added this new flag to shutdown.exe because we wanted to keep this part of Windows consistent and predictable. Not everyone uses Shutdown.exe, but those who do, depend on it for the full set of shutdown-related tasks," Clark wrote.