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Going in addition to my previous blog post of installing and running Android 4.0 (Ice cream sandwich) on your x86 based system. I encountered an interesting infinite boot loader loop problem evident only if you install your Linux distribution (and GRUB) on top of a Windows 8 system using the new Windows 8 radical boot loader. This problem could be a nagging issue for users due to the annoyances caused by the Windows8 UEFI-ready new double-boot bootmenu, and could be more prevalent when Windows 8 become mainstream, especially if you are setup to tri-boot Windows 8, Windows 7 and Linux on the same machine.
The cool but rather annoying thing about Windows 8 the Microsoft new bootmenu which appears to act like a new boot loader interface, but is actually in-fact a mini operating system itself sitting in the MBR (root) partition which functions like a gatekeeper to boot into Windows 8, it even has it’s own optimized video and touch-friendly mouse drivers pre-loaded. I previously had Windows 8 and 7 installed on my machine. If multiple instances of Windows are detected on your partitions, it will invoke the bootmenu and list all the available compatible Windows OS and reboots the PC again after your selection.
This has major issues with pre-existent bootloaders, especially if you are looking to boot into an Linux environment or similar ext3 partition using GRUB for instance. The problem here is that you will get infinite restart loops. GRUB will catch the reboot again, terminating the Windows boot cycle, bringing you back to square one into the irritating Windows 8 bootmenu. It simply just makes you wonder what Microsoft is intending to get out of this, by implementing this together with their notorious Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). Though bootloader signing and certification for UEFI is not evident here, we could see this being a major problem given the controversy Microsoft new UEFI BIOS will have against Linux platforms (or other platforms not signed by the manufacturers to work with the UEFI BIOS), especially in securing the BIOS and making the boot procedure largely closed-source.
The idea of Windows 8 running on ARM based tablets is unreal, but the idea of running Android on x86 based PCs is even cooler. Knowing the crazed Android platform developer and supporter I am, what’s the least I can do than to get it running on my x86-based tablet PC?
You can start off by grabbing the Android x86 sourcecode and building the image yourself. You have a choice of Honeycomb or Ice cream sandwich (ICS) flavors. This is courtesy of the guys on the Android x86 project who made everyone’s job easier by porting much of the needed original source code for runtime in the unconventional PC-based architecture. So do check out the Android x86 project, go ahead and give the guys a visit and drop them a tip or two if you appreciate the work the team had been putting in developing Android for PC. If you are new to this, the main development site has specific .iso files for Asus netbooks (Eee PCs), Viewsonic viewpads and few MSI netbooks which is convenient if you have those devices. Otherwise, you are quite out of luck if you are intending to get ICS running properly on your own system, let be on any system like my ultra-old-and-dated 8 year old Intel 915GM-based Fujitsu tablet which nobody supports at all.
So that pretty much kept me busy over the last few days, working on the x86 instance of Android 4.0 for my laptop and streamlining various old drivers and re-building the installer with many trail and errors. It gets really rewarding eventually when you finally manage to get the build to work, bringing a whole new life to my stoneage tablet PC.
In a matter of no time, I was zipping through the app tray and testing out various functionalities of ICS. I have the default market installed which was promptly updated to Google Play through my intel a/b/g card via my compatible wireless drivers. I’ve got touch support using my wacom-penabled touchscreen and the hardware keyboard working. Strangely, the laptop trackpad was automatically recognized as an optical trackpad (similarly found on the Desire range of HTC phones), which allows swipe based navigations and scrolling, but no hardware mouse pointer like those you get by plugging in a human interface device via USB Host. Hardware limitations on my digitizer and synaptics trackpad prevents any form of multi-touch interactions, so I am pretty much out of luck for pinch-to-zoom on the browser/maps or any form of on-screen gamepad interactions where 2 or more multi-touch points are required.
When the Metro interface was first announced for Windows 8, I had the humorous impression of it being Windows Phone for PC. We’ve seen the Metro interface already being implemented on the Xbox and the Windows Phone platform, knowing Microsoft’s enthusiasm on this rather unique interface, it will be only a matter of time before it finds it’s way into their flagship product.
Metro for Windows acts as in intermediary gateway for users to launch apps. In Windows, it serves as the new start menu between the desktop and “Apps”, positioning itself as a launching UI, allowing an out-of-the-box style of navigation via window boxes. Gone is the familiar start button on the task bar, invoking “Start” now means hovering your mouse on various “hotspots” on your screen or using the Windows button (which you will intuitively find yourself using more often now). With Metro comes with it’s own set of special shortcut keys allowing you to transition to various App listing via an Aero-like interface of sidebars, charms (window-C) and the start menu (windows button) itself.
Windows 8 still has the speed and capabilities to run on older machines. I had Windows 8 dual booting on a 7-year old single core Centrino-based Tablet PC, which was previously running Windows 7 Ultimate. Windows 8 is still largely based off Windows 7, so they should behave similarly performance-wise. Going with Metro has alway been thought to doubled edged decision for Microsoft, one which will usually make or break an OS, the change here is in-fact more drastic than the one we saw with Windows XP and the transition then to the more stable and “secure” NT file system.
The radical new interface runs like a charm. It’s both fresh, zippy and pleasant to the eye, and will definitely catch the attention of anyone. Microsoft has a strange obsession with buzzwords on their new OS, particularly the over used of the word “Apps” and “Charms” which I find hard to stick as names not representative in any of the elements on the UI. Microsoft claims that Metro is as intuitive to use on a tablet as well as trackpad based laptops, but I beg to differ even with tablet capabilities on my machine. I found the touch and swipe movements not as intuitive as that on Android or even iOS, the OS still retains much of the fixed, segmented tablet input structure we see in the previous version of windows, with weird scrollbars popping out of nowhere and Windows swipe gestures conflicting with the current touch interfaces. But I can attribute that now for the lack of refinement in the alpha release, as well as the lack of touch support drivers for my machine, which will be rectified on future releases.