Patrolling the Longhorn precinct for the latest Windows Vista beta news, commentary, and technical info...
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Installing Windows Vista
So here are the details about my experience installing Vista on my 1.6 GHz Pentium M laptop with 768MB of RAM and a 64MB ATI Radeon 9200 graphics chipset. I was hoping to find that the Windows team had made progress on their goal of an average 15-minute installation time, but unfortunately it looks like we'll have to wait for Beta 2. On the three machines I've installed Vista onto, two took about 2 hours to complete and the fastest one (3+ GHz P4, 1 GB RAM, RAID SATA drives) completed installation in 1 hour.

Installation Time
Frankly, 30-minute or less install times will save a lot of time for people who perform system installations on the job (like myself), and it should not be that difficult to acheive. For an uncustomized deployment of the standard retail version of Windows, it should only take four major steps:
  • Copy common files to disk
  • Perform hardware detection
  • Unpack only the necessary drivers
  • Install required drivers

What I've seen in past and current versions of Windows that takes up a lot install time is "registering components" and building trees like the Start menu. There's no reason why any of this needs to happen at install time. The Start menu is virtually identical on any new installation regardless of the machine, so why build it dynamically? Just have the folder tree and shortcuts on the DVD and copy them directly to disk. Tiny shortcut files should take 2 seconds to copy, not 5 minutes to generate. As for registering components, the same principle applies. While I don't know the details on exactly what "components" get "registered" during installation, I suspect there's a bunch of CLSID generation and such going on. There's got to be a way to avoid doing anything not directly related to hardware detection during installation.

Farewell, floppy drivers!
While floppy disk drives have quietly been removed from new PC models since the past year or so, the last major holdout has been drivers for such crucial things as motherboard chipset or RAID drivers. Now, Windows Vista supports loading drivers from a USB flash drive during installation, even if you boot directly off the DVD! My first magical Vista moment was realizing partway through installation onto my desktop PC that setup would require an Intel Matrix Storage RAID driver. A quick download from Intel's website using my laptop (sans floppy disk drive) got the drivers onto my thumb drive, Vista detected them, and the partitions on the RAID drives magically appeared. No more waiting 5 minutes to load a customized SCSI driver off of three floppy disks! Look for Windows Blackcomb to ship on a bootable 10GB flash drive out of the box.

A couple of things I learned the hard way:
  • Do not remove the thumb drive until installation completes (!)
  • The drivers have to be placed in the root of the thumb drive. Hopefully, future builds of Vista will be able to search the entire drive for the desired files.
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