Monday, November 12, 2012

Windows to Go and the OSX take on it.

Windows to Go is making big news in the tech scene this past Summer and Fall. Every where I go, I read something about it. People are making a big deal about it.

So what is the big deal? Windows to Go is a feature in Windows 8 Enterprise that allows you to boot and run from USB. This is different than LiveCD/USB with persistence you find in Linux or previous USB OS installers in Windows. You get to run the full operating system via a USB stick or drive.

It is designed for Windows Enterprise users (Admins) to provision and build custom images for deployment. This is specifically aimed for the enterprise.

Feature Overview:
Enable Apps Store install in Windows to Go Workspace:
Step by Step /how-tos for building a bootable USB image:
Requirements includes certified USB sticks. Currently, only 3 qualify to run Windows to Go at the moment (though it has been proven to work on any normal USB).

This is tailored for the enterprise and Windows 8 Enterprise provide easy provisioning tools.
You dont necessarily need Windows 8 Enterprise and I've found countless how-tos online which drag you along a trail of steps.

The whole process seems convoluted. You have to extract .WIM (Windows Image File) from the Install DVD and prep your USB by format and partitioning.
Then there is the issue of licensing which Microsoft hasn't touched on yet.

Once installed, I've read there are some issues with it such as the physical disks are hidden from view. There are others like performance issues. It seems to me like a form of persistence found in Linux distros and not a true full install.

A Mac user's take on this.

Now, this blog would do an injustice if it didn't show you how it is done on another operating system with a bit more elegance.

Mac OSX has been booting off portable USB/Firewire since 1999. I mean full working OS booting and not some sort of USB installer or some sort of live USB with persistence. In fact, I remember installing OSX and booting off the original 5GB Firewire iPod to do system imaging for Macs.

The preferred way to do this is cloning.

If you ever "ghosted" or clone a machine (regardless of platform), on a Mac, you can boot off the ghost clone on any drive. It is really that simple.  You can do a clean fresh install to any physical media type you wish as there is no limitation in the OS.

Next, there is no concept of "workspace" that Microsoft has implemented. You can see other drives and hardware on your clone boot. Nothing is hidden. And unlike some Linux distros, OSX does not load the OS read-only into RAM. The persistence method found in most Linux USB, to me, is not a full running install.

Moreover, on a Mac, it also doesn't have the limitations such as "apps" being locked to hardware or other issues I've read on Windows to Go.  You install Photoshop and Office on one build, it works once booted off another machine.You can clone off one image and run pretty much on any mac of comparable generation. You won't be able to boot a 2012 Mac off a 2006 clone which is given but you can pretty much go up and down at least 2-3 generation of hardware.

There is no provisioning tool necessary and you don't have to extract anything from any an ISO or DVD like you do with Windows 8.

In fact, you can take your live running mac and do a live hot-clone. All your existing files, emails, applications and preferences will carry right over.  The next time you boot off your USB stick, it will remember where you last left off on your original drive.

No special apps is necessary to accomplish this feat. In fact, you can do it with the built in Disk Utility or simply run from the command line. There are apps that allow you to simplify things like Carbon Cloner (which for years was free). These apps allow you to do things like schedule synching of a working mac. E.G. make nightly clones, synchronize and update your USB stick off your original drive. If you wish, you can sync back from your USB to your hard drive.

The only requirement is that you format your drive in GUID format which you already do anyways on a Macintosh. There is no need to build a boot partition or master boot record.

You don't even need a USB drive. You can boot off Firewire, Thunderbolt, SDcard, and even off another Mac via a normal Firewire/Thunderbolt cable.

Another plus, if you have existing apps on other mounted partitions, no re-installation necessary for 90% of those applications. Since Mac Apps are special clickable folders, all you need to do is click to run. This is equivalent to Windows' portable apps but default on OSX. They are mostly self-contained. You simply copy the app over if you want them permanently installed on your new USB drive. No running "setup.exe" or "install.msi" necessary.

You can boot your OS off USB and run your apps off SDcard if you are limited by storage.

Now lets compare how it is done between the two.

Example how-to build a Win-to-Go. You can read various how-tos online like this. Unless you have the Enterprise provisioning tool, expect to google various how-tos and articles showing you the beauty of it all.

And here how it is done on a Mac with 2 commands in the terminal. This is done on a live running  machine or you can do this clone cold.

asr -source /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/ -target /Volumes/backup -erase -noprompt
bless -folder /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD\ 1/System/Library/CoreServices

No reformat necessary for existing HFS formatted drives.. You can even keep your existing content on your destination drive!

Or, point and click like  below. Clone and live running Mac to USB/SD/Firewire/Thunderbolt using an app such like Carbon Cloner. 

Then boot from your desired drive connection. Below,  I have the same build cloned to a Firewire, USB 3 drive, USB 3 stick, Thunderbolt, and SDcard.

As you can see here, I can select the various bootable volumes. Hit the option key at boot to prompt your boot selection. Notice the nice graphical boot menu which has been around since 1999.

Or if you prefer, boot off another Mac using Target Disk mode by connecting two cables to one another.

Here, I boot off another macbook and clone it's entire working content to another bootable USB-SSD drive.

Thats it.  So you can see why I chuckle whenever I read something on the Internet about Windows to Go. I've been doing this since 1999. In fact, I've probably built hundreds of clones and imaging on various media formats for over 13 years now.

I guess I've taken this feature for granted. I recently bought some external drives and when I format them, I often have a 16 GB partition where I clone over my latest build and I don't even think about it because it comes natural on the Mac.

In fact, I've been booting off a portable Thunderbolt drive and it is faster than running off the internal drive of a 27" iMac. I often swap machines and boot off the same drive on other macs; running Adobe Creative Suite and MS Office all day long. I get 8 second boot, 300 MB/s writes and 400-500 MB/s reads. Photoshop and Dreamweaver launches in 2 seconds flat. This is how I've been taking my work home for years. There is absolutely no difference whatsoever or work-around running from an alternate external boot.

Then if I get bored, I can clone my working, running mac to a disk image and boot that image off a netboot share.

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