Windows 8 to automatically detect boot problems

Microsoft yesterday promised that a feature it’s added to Windows 8 will put a stop to endless reboots.

Unlike earlier versions, Windows 8 will automatically call up a new menu with repair and recovery options when the software sniffs out problems getting the machine to boot or the OS to load properly.

In a post to the Building Windows 8 blog Tuesday, Chris Clark, a program manager with the user Experience team, described new tools embedded in the operating system designed to step in when a PC reboots more than twice because of problems.

Although Clark couched the changes as necessary because of increasingly-fast boot times — meaning users are often unable to interrupt the process with traditional key presses like F2 or F8 — one side effect is that endless reboots should be a thing of the past.

The problem has plagued Windows at times.

In 2008, an update to prep machines for the release of Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) crippled PCs when it sent them into an endless cycle of rebooting.

The same trouble resurfaced in late 2009 as users tried to upgrade to the then-new Windows 7 from Vista, and again in 2010 when a Microsoft security update conflicted with rootkit-infected Windows XP PCs.

Windows 8, however, features what Clark called “automatic failover,” which loads a new boot options menu “when there is no way to successfully complete Windows startup.” From the boot menu, users can select the operating system’s repair or restoration tools to try to find and fix the underlying problem.

“This automatic failover behavior will take you directly to the boot options menu whenever there is a problem that would otherwise keep your PC from loading Windows,” said Clark. “This even includes cases where it appears (to Windows) that boot has succeeded, but in actuality the PC is unusable.”

Windows 8 also takes other boot-related actions. An unsuccessful core boot sequence triggers an automatic retry. If a second attempt fails, then the machine automatically loads Windows Recovery Environment (RE), the diagnostic and recovery toolset that’s been bundled since Vista.

Because the failover kicks in after Windows 8 detects two consecutive reboots, theoretically the new OS should be immune to the endless rebooting that has dogged XP, Vista and Windows 7

Along with addressing endless reboots, the new boot options in Windows 8 let users initiate a restart that doesn’t rely on a key press during the reboot process, eliminating the need to interrupt the reboot at just the right time.

As Clark explained, Windows 8 — following in the footsteps of Windows 7 — has such short boot times that it’s essentially impossible to press a pause key such as F2 or F8 before the process moves on.

Windows 8 boot times are something that Microsoft has already hawked. Last September, when the company debuted the Developer Preview. According to the company’s test, Windows 8 boots between 30% and 70% faster than earlier versions.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed. His email address is

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