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Microsoft preparing for diskless Windows 8 PCs

But Windows RT can't be installed wirelessly

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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 existence of Redmond's considerations for such machines at the company's Australian TechEd conference today. The reason for building such a device, he said, was to build very low cost PCs. While he's not aware of anyone doing so, the concept of booting from external media is important given one of Windows 8's deployment options is the new Windows to Go option that boils Windows 8 down onto external storage devices.

Such devices, Niehaus said, will have to be certified to run Windows to Go for two reasons, one of which is that in Microsoft's tests external storage ran dangerously hot.

The second reason is that external drives can't be partitioned in the ways Windows 8 requires, thanks to its use of BIOS-replacement Unified Extensible Firmware Interface(UEFI) that is an important contributor to the new OS' faster boot times. Niehaus explained that UEFI means Windows 8 needs four partitions in a disk. One is for recovery purposes, a second for the system, while UEFI uses a third invisible partition of 128MB to help it go about its work. The fourth partition holds the OS and user data.

“USBs report themselves as fixed disk,” Niehaus told the crowd in his session, and therefore cannot be partitioned. Microsoft has therefore had to work with third parties to create devices capable of making Windows to Go a goer. Super Talent and Kingston Technology have created such devices.

Niehaus also revealed that mass installations of Windows RT won't be easy, as the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) can't cope with devices that don't have a wired connection to the world. USB-to-ethernet dongles may be required to deploy the OS widely. ®

The author travelled to TechEd, ate and slept, as a guest of Microsoft.

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