In my previous post “Interesting Windows 8 Issues on Lenovo X220 Tablet” I delved into some Windows 8 driver shenanigans as they related to that machine. In the past few weeks I’ve performed over two dozen Windows 8 installs on several notebook and desktop PCs, and have started getting comfortable with post-install driver catch-up as well as the surprisingly fast and reliable OS installer itself. At the same time, I’ve observed an increasing influx of Windows 8 drivers as device makers start gearing up for the OEM Release Candidate in July 2012, and the General Availability release in October 2012 as well. Here’s my most important point of this post, new and exciting driver and software updates notwithstanding: In the vast majority of cases, Windows 7 drivers and software work FINE with Windows 8! But around the edges of the computing industry lots of interesting new developments are also underway…
Thus, for example, you can now find a Windows 8 Beta Drivers page amidst the Lenovo support pages, and you are starting to see Windows 8 discussions (but still with lots of disclaimers) on the related forums at the HP (forum post search) and Dell (community search) sites. Other vendors are no doubt working feverishly on Windows 8 to prepare for the upcoming OEM/RC release but most are being much more cagey and less visible about their Windows 8 efforts at the moment, however.
One interesting ray of sunshine comes from nVidia, which is now including Windows 8 in its lists of recognized operating systems. Alas, the site couldn’t recognize my video card to tell me I’m running the current Windows 8 friendly release (296.17, released March 6, 2012) though it was happy to let me navigate to that driver manually:
I’m expecting to see an increasing number of Windows 8 specific drivers popping up all over the place in the weeks and months ahead, as release dates draw closer. As if to confirm my expectations, Gabe Topala has just released a beta version of his excellent System Information for Windows program (SIW) that’s named SIW-X64 v2012.04.08. It now recognizes the Windows 8 OS and its runtime environment:
Just the beginning of a huge wave to come. Stay tuned: I’ll report other updates and goodies as I find them!
All in all, I’ve been pretty impressed with the X220 Tablet PC from Lenovo. It ran Windows 7 like a champ with good performance and touch response. Once I learned that a clean install of Windows 8 actually works better than an upgrade install from 7 to 8 in terms of drivers and touch, I have come to feel the same way about this machine running the Windows 8 Customer Preview as well.
But I have hit several interesting glitches on this machine, some merely annoying others somewhat more serious. After several long half-day sessions dealing with drivers, I realized that the best approach to bringing the system up to snuff works like this:
- Install Windows 8 from the ISO (I used the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool to take the Windows 8 ISO and create a bootable USB Flash Drive aka UFD from which I installed the OS).
- Run Windows Update until no new updates are available (easiest way to do this is to enter Windowkey-R to open the Run box, then type “wuapp” into that box to launch the program).
- Download and install the latest Intel chipset utility files (for the nonce that’s version 188.8.131.529, though Lenovo now has a Windows 8 download page up where you can grab version 184.108.40.2060, along with other Windows 8-specific goodies.
- Use a driver scanner/update service to catch and fix other missing or outdated drivers. Five items show up as missing drivers after Windows 8 install: the Ricoh card reader, three items related to the Intel Management Engine Interface (which uses a Serial on LAN, or SOL, connection to do sideband communications with devices that can’t even boot into an OS successfully), and the Integrated Web Camera. Between DriverAgent’s recommendations (that the driver scanner service I use) and the downloads available from the Lenovo support pages, I was able to find and fix pretty much everything.
But I have hit a few less tractable snags on the X220 Tablet. First and worst, the built-in Windows Backup doesn’t work on this machine. I tried half-a-dozen different remote storage options (multiple USB external drives, network drives on other hosts in the same homegroup, and so forth) during each of which I would get the error message that “Windows backup skipped backing up system image because one of the critical volumes is not having enough free space. Free up some space by deleted unnecessary files and try again.” All of the target machines I chose to store the backup had at least 0.5 TB of storage available, so I knew that wasn’t the problem. I am using an SSD as the primary drive in this test machine, and it currently has about 80% free space, so I’m mystified as to how it might be the problem, either (but that could be it). The system drive has a couple of other partitions on it: first, the Lenovo Recovery Partition is 9.45 GB of which 8.8GB is in use; and second, there’s an SYSTEM_DRV partition as well: it’s more or less invisible to Windows, though you can see this 1.17 GB partition with the Windows Disk Management utility. Right now, I can’t use either Windows Backup (through the Windows 7 File Recovery control panel item, where it lurks under a misleading item identifier) or Lenovo Rescue and Recovery backup on this machine. Fortunately, Acronis True Image Home 2012 works fine, so I’m using it instead.
I also had to do some dithering about to get the Wacom pen working properly on the X220 tablet. The Lenovo ThinkVantage utilities have enjoyed mixed success on this machine running Windows 8, too. The console works, and so do the system scans. Rescue and Recovery doesn’t work (nor backup, as already mentioned), nor does the built-in software and driver update utility named ThinkVantage Update. I am sure this simply reflects the lack of catch-up to Windows 8 at PC Tools, which is the company that builds the ThinkVantage stuff for Lenovo as far as I can tell. So, I’ve put a call into my contacts there to see if I can learn more about what’s up.
[Follow-up Note: 2:00 PM 4/6/2012]:More research into the error code 0X81000033 (thrown by my failed backup in Windows 8 ) shows that a too-small first physical partition on the hard disk can provoke this error condition. I used WinDirStat to check the contents of the SYSTEM_DRV partition and, sure enough, it contained three huge WIM (Windows Image) files for various repair and recovery scenarios. What I needed was more free space in this partition, but Disk Management wouldn’t let me expand the partition, only shrink it!
But after a quick Skype session to my friendly and supportive Paragon Software press person, Katia Shabanova, who works for them in Germany (fortunately for me she was still at her desk), I obtained a copy of that company’s Hard Disk Manager 12 Suite. In 15 minutes, after downloading and installing the software, I was resizing the initial partition from 1.7 to 3.9 GB (I doubled its size, figuring that would be enough for scratch files during backup). On my next attempt, Windows Backup completed successfully and all was well I hope the Lenovo guys are reading my blog because they apparently need to change the disk layout for their Windows 8 builds, to increase the size of the SYSTEM_DRV partition somewhat. It may not be necessary to grow it to nearly 4 GB as I did, but I’m sure they can figure out exactly how big to make it. I just didn’t want to bother with the trial-and-error or experimentation necessary to set the size more precisely. Nevertheless, I’m glad to have another bump in my Windows 8 road out of the way!
Everybody’s curious about Windows 8. But unless you work in a test lab, or have extra PCs to burn, you may not have a spare machine lying around on which to run the latest controversial Windows OS (or the budget necessary to buy another PC for that purpose). What to do? What to do?
Glad you asked. There are two very good, and pretty easy options for loading Windows 8 up on a PC already running Windows 7 or Vista (XP machines may be a bit more dicey because of their probable age, and the CPU and graphics power — or lack thereof — that goes along with it):
1. Create a Virtual Machine and load Windows 8 into its own VM. You can then run this “guest OS” within your current desktop OS whatever it may happen to be (and I’ve even found lots of instructions on how to do this on a Macintosh running OS X Snow Leopard or Lion). Other popular choices include Oracle’s VirtualBox, VMware, and even Microsoft’s Virtual PC. Set up a search string that matches your chosen scenario, and you’ll find at least half-a-dozen videos or how-to’s stepping you through the install and use processes. There are some downsides to this approach: you need LOTS of memory to run Windows 8 in a VM with comfort (I wouldn’t do it on a machine with less than 8 GB of RAM, and wouldn’t allocate less than 2 GB to Win8), and you won’t get the same kind of touch experience from Windows 8 that you’d get running it natively and directly on PC hardware. But it still works nicely to give you a sense of how it looks, behaves, and runs. And you can turn it off when you don’t want to use it, or even get rid of it quickly and easily, by tossing the virtual drive on which it runs, and the virtual state and configuration files it uses. No muss, no fuss.
2. Create a dual-boot configuration and load Windows 8 into its own system/boot partition. At boot-time, you decide whether you’re running Windows 8 or something else, and everything else happens accordingly (Lifehacker has a nice “how-to” on this very subject, and you can find countless other stories on this topic as well). The upside here is a native Windows 8 experience, which can be important if you want to experience touch in all its features and manifestations, and very little stress or difficulty in performing the Windows 8 installation and post-install tweaking and clean-up (you’ll still need to do most or all of this for option 1 anyway after setting up a VM infrastructure). The downside is that you have to allocate a disk or disk partition to Windows 8, and deal with all that stuff if and when it’s time to move onto the commercial release or simply to get rid of the customer preview.
And don’t forget: if and when you decide to move to the final release of Windows 8, the Customer Preview and other beta versions must go. There’s never been an upgrade path from pre-release (beta) versions of Windows to the following commercial release so far, and I’ve seen or heard nothing from MS or its partners to suggest anything will be different this time around, either.
I’m not completely sure that the status of a Start Menu in Windows 8 isn’t a tempest in a teapot, but the controversy around this topic continues unabated. The Microsoft Pri0 (MS-speak for “Top Priority”) column at The Seattle Times (a frequent source of “inside scoop” on all things Microsoft and Widows related) ran a piece last Friday entitled ‘Nomura on Windows 8: “Microsoft will not be adding back the Start Button.”
The item that ran comes from meetings that finance firm Nomura Securities held with investors that week, along with Tami Reller, head of marketing and CFO for the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft. Reller did address issues related to user distress and confusion about desktop navigation in Windows 8. The piece also states that “…though Windows 8 users can go into the familiar, traditional desktop mode, they have to first go through the OS”s new Metro user interface and continue to use some of the new Metro commands to get back to the Start screen, which has replaced the Start button.”
According to sources at Nomura, “… the Start Button will remain gone…” but Microsoft will provide a tutorial to instruct keyboard and mouse users about new commands they can use to get around in the new OS, so they won’t feel lost when first getting to know Windows 8. I’ve been working with it for over a month now myself, and still need to find ways to get to programs and utilities I wish to use from time to time. This should be an interesting issue to watch, as continuing UI kinks get worked out.
On Wednesday, Building Windows 8featured a post from Jerry Koh, group program manager, and Jeff Piira, test manager, both from the Windows 8 Human Interaction Platform team. The blog post is entitled “Touch hardware and Windows 8” and includes the best discuss of touch-based Windows interfaces and interactions I’ve seen anywhere to date.
The piece also features this terrific diagram of basic touch interactions in Windows 8 (see the full-size original):
As the blog post says, “the fundamental gestures require no more than 2 fingers,” but also observes that this “can be very limiting for a variety of applications,” by way of explaining “why Windows 8 PCs require digitizers that support a minimum of 5 fingers” (or, more accurately, 5 simultaneous touch points).
Here’s another fascinating snippet from the post:
New UI concepts in Windows 8 also impact touch hardware design. This is another area where Windows 8 PCs will be more capable than existing Windows 7 PCs. For example, the edge swipe required to reveal the charms and app bars fundamentally changes all the assumptions made on touch hardware. Traditionally, the edges of the screen are where touch sensitivity drops off, and it’s a place that hardware manufacturers have traditionally not placed much emphasis on. The center of the screen received all the innovation, while the edges have suffered. If you have seen or experienced the Windows 8 user experience, the edge swipe is a critical part of using Windows.
All in all, this is a worthwhile manifesto on what drove the touch design for Windows 8. Here’s another couple of tidbits of information that readers might find interesting. Form factor and touch sensor technologies break down as slates (tablets) 14%, all-in-one 30%, convertible (notebook/tablet combo) 40%, touchscreen monitors 16%. Touch technologies in use: capacitive 66%, optical 28%, and other 6%. There are also some interesting diagrams on the success of various kinds of Windows 7 touchscreen operations (working with tiles, snap view drag, right edge swipe, and so forth). Lots of interesting info, and worth at least a once-over.
Anybody who’s put much time in with Windows knows that keyboard shortcuts can really speed up system navigation and interaction. This is as true for Windows 8 as it has been for earlier versions, only perhaps more so for those of us seeking quick ways to get around in (or even minimize use of ) the Metro Tiles side of the Windows 8 GUI. Here is a compact distillation of the initial shortcuts from Kent Walter “Getting around in Windows 8” from the Windows Experience Blog that I expect other intrepid Windows 8 explorers will find useful.
There’s something even better in store for download from this blog, too — namely, a tabular layout called “Keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8.” You can grab it in graphical format (PNG), PDF, or XPS, as you see fit. Even on my 27″ screen, I need to blow it up to read it easily, so you may want to fool around with it on your own displays to find a magnification or resolution that works for you. Here’s a snippet from that table, just so you can see what it delivers:
When moving from an older Windows version to a newer one where an upgrade path exists, the upgrade install option picks up and carries as much of the older environment into the newer one as it can. This usually includes any or all device drivers that remain compatible from old to new versions as well, along with preferences, settings, and even such tools and programs as remain viable in the new target environment. But what about a clean install for Windows 8 and device drivers? I have tried this out on a handful of machines now, and have observed a new approach from Microsoft in setting up such installs — namely, much more widespread use of generic and current device drivers to create installations that work quite well from initial boot-up under the new OS.
Thus, for example, here’s what my go-to driver scanning tool reports for my X220 Tablet PC immediately following a clean Windows 8 install:
There are 18 drivers listed here, and the machine worked more or less well immediately following installation and application of standard updates. I had to force load the Intel chipset drivers for this machine (the latest Series 6 infinst.exe file from the Intel Driver Download Center, and I did find four “question mark drivers in Device Manager () and after finding and fixing those items, here’s what my final Driveragent scan looked like including drivers for all currently disconnected devices:
This is what turned up at the end of my driver odyssey, after installing the Intel Chipset drivers, finding and fixing all the question mark entries in Device Manager, visiting the Lenovo driver downloads on the company Website, and repeatedly running DriverAgent until everything finally showed updated. The complete time to finish this exercise was between two and three hours, mostly because of the repeated reboots required when installing many Windows drivers. I’m a little curious why some devices show up in the Disconnected category (such as the numeric coprocessor and the programmable interrupt driver, which you’d think would be used all of the time, and especially the OCZ-3 Agility drive, which is home to this system’s Windows 8 OS) but other than that, everything now seems pretty ship-shape.
But right after clean OS install, MS did as good a job, or better, of putting a working and workable system in my hands as for any clean Windows install I’ve done since NT 4.0. So maybe there is something else to like about Windows 8, aside from snazzy Metro graphics and a touch oriented interface? On the other hand, it just might be my having chosen from the recommended platforms for testing Windows 8 also means that the drivers are already known to be stable and working! We can’t really know more until the GA release comes out and gets old enough to have to deal with new hardware it never saw when the OS was built, and the driver libraries assembled.
In my earlier reading about Windows 8 (and even in some of my reporting) I’d been led to believe that “no more gadgets” was a stark reality of the Windows 8 landscape. Not so! A right click on the Windows 8 desktop includes an entry for Gadgets amidst its various offerings, so I soon found myself running my favorite gadgets on the Windows 8 desktop, too. The screencap below is reduced in size to fit the blog frame; click this link to see the full-sized version.
If you can see the reduced-size version (or look at the full-size version in another window), you’ll see the Gadgets entry at the bottom of the right-click pop-up menu from the Windows 8 desktop. At the right edge of the display, you’ll also see three of my favorite Windows 7/Vista gadgets plus the Symantec Norton Internet Security gadget as well (among the many interesting things I’m learning is that Microsoft Security Essentials won’t install on the Windows 8 Customer Preview, though NIS version 220.127.116.11 is running quite happily on my X220 Tablet and my home-brew desktop machine, both running Windows 8).
From the top down, you see:
- The Windows Vista Shutdown Control, which keeps the shut down, restart, and logout buttons never more than one click away on the desktop.
- The AddGadget All CPU Meter, which shows core (or hyperthread) utilization, core temps, memory consumption, and more (V3.9 is the most current version, and running on Windows 8 ).
- The AddGadget Network Meter, which shows up/down network traffic, signal strength for Wi-Fi interfaces, and all kinds of other interesting network data (V 8.1 is the most current, and ditto).
- The NIS 2012 Gadget appears automatically when you install NIS 2012. It popped up on my Windows 8 desktop after the reboot that launches the program suite “for real” after installation.
Because I find desktop gadgets so useful and informative, I’m delighted to see that my earlier intelligence on this subject was faulty. Given the underlying architecture similarities between Windows 8 and Windows 7 (so far, except for Metro and touch stuff, they seem much, much more alike than they do different), I had wondered how MS managed to lock them out. Apparently, they haven’t — at least not in the Customer Preview!
OK, so I ‘ve been messing around pretty seriously with Windows 8 lately. And in so doing, I’ve also been messing about and learning about my Lenovo X220 Tablet and T520 notebook PCs. One of the things I’ve learned is that you CAN’T use the Windows System Repair Disk (for either Windows 7 or Windows 8, as it turns out) to rebuild a Lenovo notebook or tablet PC from the ground up. It’s because there are some hidden linkages between the primary, bootable partition on the system drive, and a couple of other partitions there as well (a 25.39 GB NTFS Recovery and a 1.17 GB SYSTEM_DRV partition, as shown in the Disk Management screen cap from that machine).
Silly me! And I thought I could jump back and forth between Windows 7 and 8 on my X220 Tablet without taking extraordinary steps. I ended up having to fork over $49 to Lenovo (actually IBM) Tech Support to purchase a set of “factory restore” DVDs to return my tablet to pristine condition. In the future, the right way to proceed when installing unsupported OSes is to remove the unit’s disk drive, clone it (I use the Acronis Clone Disk tool from the Tools and Utilities included in its 2012 True Image Home suite), then mess with the copy while leaving the original alone. I suppose I should have known this in advance, but that’s the way the mop flops sometimes.
Before I could do things the right way, however, I had to undo the damage I’d done to the original install and revert back from Windows 8 to Windows 7 on my hard disk (I’ll be switching to a modestly-priced OCZ Agility 3 SSD for future work, which should speed up my crashes and system destruction/restoration cycles). That meant using an external USB drive because the compact form factor of the X220T leaves no room for an internal optical drive. And therein hangs the “…always something…” part of this blog.
I started out using my handy-dandy InfoSAFE 5.25″ eSATA & USB 2.0 Optical Drive enclosure from StarTech.com, into which I had mounted a LiteON DVD burner. But alas, the drive (or the USB controller in the StarTech unit) proved unable to read the Operating System Recovery Disc for Windows 7 Professional SP 1 that Lenovo had sent me. In fact, it tried so hard to read that optical disk that it wore a visible (and palpable) groove right into the media (as shown in the following photo, which shows the groove on a cropped section of the disk’s optical surface).
Good thing I bought two of those restore sets — I decided to go ahead and buy a factory restore set for my T520 while I was about obtaining my toolkit items — because even though one of my Windows 7 restore disks got trashed, the other was identical (only the other two DVDs contain specific drivers and stuff for the different notebook and tablet PC models) and still quite usable. So I headed down to Fry’s and plunked down $50 for an Asus portable USB-attached DVD burner, plugged it in, fired it up, and got through the rebuild process a couple of hours later.
But it reminded me that when you’re fixing balky or wounded PCs, there’s always the opportunity for Murphy to pay a visit (or two … or even three) during the repair process. That’s why I’m glad to live in the Austin area, not more than half an hour away from Fry’s where I can pick up pretty much anything I might need for PC repair any time between 8am and 10pm Monday-Friday, with one hour less on Saturdays (they open at 9) and 3 hours less on Sundays (they open at 9 and close at 8). It sure saved my hindquarters this time around, and helped me get up and running in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also the first time I’ve ever had an optical drive “eat my homework,” but golly if that isn’t just what happened!
In the latest Building Windows 8 blog post entitled “Web browsing in Windows 8 Customer Preview with IE10” Rob Maceri the group program manager for IE in Windows 8 explains how Microsoft has redesigned browser behavior in the upcoming release of the MS browser. It’s pretty interesting stuff, and it makes major strides toward establishing a visual and touch oriented interface for browsing.
Since I purchased my iPhone last October (2011) I’ve really come to appreciate the ability to touch address, phone number, and other information on a Web page and have it “do the right thing” with such data — namely, dial the phone, show a map with directions, and so forth and so on. A lot of what Maceri describes in this blog post explains the underpinnings for such operations and activities, so that data on a Web page becomes actionable without requiring cutting and pasting into other applications (he describes it as “…a more immersive and less manual browsing experience.”
Use of navigation tiles in IE10 is also prety cool, where frequently accessed and pinned Websites remain readily available through a single touch or click, without accessing favorites or other navigation tools more explicitly. Here’s a screen cap to illustrate those tiles:
Active tabs (already open sites) appear as page thumbnails with text subtitles beneath them to help identify what’s what. Toolbars and other controls appear only when they’re needed rather than all the time. The overall result is a more graphical and interactive Web experience. So far, it’s one of the brightest spots about Windows 8 and the only “app” that really makes effective use of tiles, as far as I can tell. Will it be enough to drive uptake of this new OS? I’m not convinced of that yet, but I do like what IE 10 brings to the Windows 8 party.