Hands on with Windows To Go: The good, the bad, the USB bootable

We review the new bootable USB version of Windows 8 -- and, no, you can't get fries with that

By , ITworld |  Software, windows 8, Windows To Go

Windows To Go saves the driver configuration so you won't see the initial driver installation/update process on a machine twice. However, I soon discovered one very real problem: Booting into Windows To Go might not always be so easy since fiddling around with BIOS/UEFI of various PCS (at corporations, friends' homes, internet cafés, etc.) may not be possible at all.

Unplugging the drive

The first thing I did (and I imagine anyone with a Windows To Go drive will do) is unplug the drive to see what will happen. Fortunately, Microsoft made changes to its file system stack and kernel drivers that allow this specific scenario. Once the drive is removed, Windows 8 just freezes. When you plug the drive back in, it continues to work as if nothing ever happened. However, after 60 seconds of non use, Windows 8 assumes that you're gone and shuts down the machine.

I encountered some weird issues on one of my desktop systems (an Alienware gaming rig) in which Windows To Go would run for a few seconds and then just freeze up. I assume this is a beta bug but it was a good reminder to save all my files before I tried unplugging.

I also found that Windows To Go is extremely sensitive to improper shutdowns. Each and every time I forced the PC to shut down, I was presented with a "chkdsk" dialog that sat there for many minutes scanning the thumb drive for errors.

Physical hard disks: Hidden?

Microsoft hides the internal hard disk on any machine by default so that Windows To Go can't be used as a hacking device to get quick access to data on a physical disk:

However, using "diskmgmt.msc" makes getting around this all too simple: Just select the physical partition and mark it as "Online" and you'll get instant access. Of course, the local user folder will still be protected but all other files are easily accessible.

You could do this with any bootable Linux and Windows environment so Windows To Go isn't any more of a security risk, but it isn't any less either.

Working with the Windows 8/Office 2013 cloud

Having signed into my Microsoft Account (what used to be called Windows Live ID), all my language settings, keyboard preferences, wallpaper, themes and various other settings got applied almost instantly. I felt at home. Once I set up all my applications, I couldn't really tell whether I was working with the physical machine or the USB thumb drive.

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