Mar 24 2012

Windows 8 : Development Installation Options - USB (Windows to Go)

Category: Desktop and ServerJoel Ivory Johnson @ 07:20

The consumer preview of Windows 8 has been available for almost a month now. I've got the OS running as the main operating system on three of my computers; a slate, a tablet, and a desktop. While running natively on hardware is, in my opinion, the best way to run Windows 8, there are various reasons for which some one may want to do this such as not having access to additional hardware (or the desired configuration being to expensive for multiple machines).


I was looking at some of the other options for running Windows 8. These included the following:


  • Hardware Emulation
    • VMWare
    • Sun Virtual Box
    • VMWare
  • USB Installation
  • VHD Boot
Hardware Emulation is straight forward. I tried out Sun Virtual Box during the first release of Windows 8 CTP (at the time it was the only emulator that would work!). Since then VMWare has updated their products to have compatibility too. Though with VMWare there are a few things you'll want to do to ensure that you don't run into problems. When you are creating the new Virtual Machine select the option to install the operating system later. The automatic OS installation doesn't yet target Windows 8. Secondly you will want to edit the virtual machine configuration and remove the floppy disk. There's some other nebulous error that you will get during installation if the floppy disk is still present. I've found the performance to be acceptable within emulation (your mileage may varry since emulation performance is necessarily dependent on the performance of the host machine). But I find it more usable when it is running in full screen mode. It is difficult to hit the one pixel boundries on the edges of the screen in windowed mode. 

USB installation for the most part worked pretty well. But during operations that required heavy IO for the boot drive other task that required some level of IO appeared to freeze (which are more operations than you would think). To make a USB installation you will need to already have an up and running installation of Windows 8 (either in an emulator or on a real device). The instructions for the process can be found here.  If you look in the Windows Explorer you'll see that the main drive still shows as a removable drive. 

This causes an issue with installing the developer tools. The developer tools will *not* install on a removable drive. 


I tried to do a few things to circumvent this and finally found something that works. I had to make a VHD on my USB key and mount it and use that as the installation target.  I assigned this VHD drive the letter [P:] and tried the installation process again and it worked. 



VHD means Virtual Hard Disk. It's a file that contains an entire file system packaged in a file. Virtual PC uses this format but you can also make them at will from the disk manager. To make a VHD do the following. 


  1. Open the Control Panel
  2. Open  "Administrative Tools"
  3. Open "Computer Management"
  4. On the left pane select "Disk Management" under the "Storage" group
  5. Right-click on "Disk Management" and select "Create VHD"
    1. Select the maximum size of the virtual drive
    2. Select whether you want to preallocate the space or allocate it as needed
  6. Click on OK. The drive is automatically mounted 
  7. Right-click on disk name  and select "Initialize."
  8. Click on OK on the dialog that shows up
  9. Right-click on the area to the right of the disck and select "New Simple Volume."
  10. On the dialog that shows click on "Next" until you are able to select a drive letter. 
  11. Select a drive letter and click "Next"
  12. Enter a name for the volume and click "Next"
  13. Click "Finish."
After you click on "Finish" the drive will be available in the file explorer and available as an installation target. 

I'm still looking into the option of booting up from a VHD. With VHD bootup the operating system would b installed in a virual hard drive that is saved on the primary drive. When the computer is turned on you get the option of booting up into the main OS or into the VHD.  But it seems that my hard drive encryption software is causing some problems. I'll post back after I get the VHD option working.