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Windows stripped, revelations

Lately I’ve gotten my hands on 4 super sexy HP thin clients. They are from 2006 so I got them cheap (almost give away price) but they work brilliantly. I decided to go with Windows XP embedded since that system is much easier to tailor and mold to my needs. I also updated two of them to Windows 7 embedded and DSLinux respectively.

How small is Windows, really?

When Windows 95 came out everyone was in shock: holy cow what a bloated OS! We were all used to 16 bit operating systems, like the Amiga where the operating system cam it at around 5 megabytes. This was because the kernel on the Amiga was on chip though. We were also used to Mac’s which operated on much the same principles, where the OS was a single floppy and parts of Mac OS was on chip as well.

Thin clients make excellent emulation machines. Here installing Amiga OS 1.3

Thin clients make excellent emulation machines. Here installing Amiga OS 1.3

Well today I had a small revelation. Having studied up on Terminal Server and thin clients, I found out that Windows embedded, no matter what version, is essentially the exact same software as the full desktop versions.

The only difference between Windows embedded and the all-round, commercial desktop edition – is that the embedded version has absolutely nothing extra. You use an image builder application to tailor the Windows image, and absolutely nothing else is added to the installation.

This means: no extra drivers or libraries, no extra images, no extra programs or protocols — all those myriad of files floating around you harddisk are gone.

Guess how big the core Windows system is? Take a wild guess? 44 megabytes!

As you add modules to this, like remote desktop support, networking standards and protocols, applications, hardware drivers, usb support (and so on) it slowly starts to grow. In the end my full Windows XP installation came in at a whopping 250 megabytes (roughly rounded)!

USB rescue stick

As you can probably imagine, a hacker like myself (in the good sense in the word) could not let this opportunity go unnoticed. So immediately I started constructing a rescue USB disk with the bare basics. How big did you say? Well the smallest USB stick i have is 8 gigabytes. I dont think you can get anything smaller these days? At least not in Norway.

Amiga UAE, installing OS 3.9

Amiga UAE, installing OS 3.9

Either way I partitioned the USB drive and gave the boot partition 1 gigabyte and then the work partition 7 gigabytes for applications and tools. I dont think i’ll be running out of space any time soon. It’s a rescue boot after all.

The really sexy thing about this is that it boots incredibly fast! Just plug in the USB stick, switch on the PC and BAM you’re in windows.

Now naturally there are restrictions. Like I mentioned the embedded version’s strength is it’s modularity. So creating a universal USB stick will be almost impossible without adding the standard Windows driver library. But you can pick a generic display driver with semi-high resolution, a vanilla sound driver, USB driver and CD-rom driver. And naturally you want to copy over english, american and norwegian keyboard layout files.

Well — hope you found this interesting! The reason I bought the thin-clients were initially to create emulation machines (turning it into a dedicated Amiga or Nintendo), and learning more about terminal server software. But right now I’m tempted to whip out Delphi and create my own television set-top-box 🙂

  1. WarrenP
    May 2, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    In Windows 7 and Windows 8 there are so many sources of bloat even above the ones you mention.

    1. App virtualization pool storage.
    2. DLL hell fixes that are worse than the original DLL hell, such as the Side By Side (SxS) system.
    3. Installers who cache the entire 5 gig installer on your hard drive, so a program that takes 3 gigs to install (already a bloated pig) needs another 3 gigs under the ProgramData folder to hold the complete installer. So you have two copies of everything. Uncheck a checkbox to save space during install? That shit is still on your disk.
    4. The NTFS filesystem contains so much bloat and metadata, that the System Volume Information on my 256 gb laptop SSD has 64 gigs dedicated to the “System Volume Information”.
    5. Previous versions (NTFS) feature on NTFS causes horrendous bloat on PCs.
    6. System restore and recovery features on Windows, which you probably need an MCSE certificate’s worth of training before you can even figure out which feature is what, can be configured that can use dozens or hundreds of gigabytes. And that’s in addition to the recovery partitions which are something else.


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