in which tim yells at bios programmers

Dell have used F2 for their BIOS key practically forever. Any Dell laptop or desktop, it’s F2 to get into the BIOS.

Compaq? F10, but you’ve gotta be on the ball or you’ll miss it.

For most whiteboxes, it’s either F2 or delete. Although I’ve seen control-F2 on a laptop before. Sometimes it’s F1 (isn’t that the help key?), or F11 (which is sometimes the boot menu), or F12 (which is sometimes network boot – hands up everybody who’s needed that option at home?).

The Toshiba I worked on today was a fine example. The splash screen said “hit F2 for boot menu”, which worked, but to get into BIOS you had to hit escape, and then F1 when it told you. If I wasn’t armed with google and the thing’s model number I’d have been mashing random buttons before figuring that out.

The special no-award goes to whatever genius recently decided F8 was a sensible boot menu key. That’s gonna come back and bite you in the ass the very first time you want safe mode, genius. (And probably every other time thereafter also.)

Listen up guys, Apple have had this down pat for centuries now. Hold C to boot from a CD, or N to boot from the network, or T to start that fantastic computer-is-a-firewire-disk mode I wish all laptops had. In the shiny white universe, you can basically guess at a cool feature you’d like your computer to have, and it’ll have it, accessible through the first keyboard shortcut you guess.

Us in the dark universe however basically have to guess every time we encounter a new computer. When your job involves fixing computers for complete strangers, this becomes a factor in your blood pressure.

Here’s my solution. Instead of everybody picking an F-button out of a hat every month, we make Tab the official “stop the process and give me some options” button. It’s already the button you press to get rid of the motherboard brand’s splash screen, giving you a fleeting glance at what drives are present and accounted for and which aren’t.

I want tab to mean “stop right after you finish detecting hardware and loading extra controller cards, so that I can tell you exactly what to boot from, or go to setup, or temporarily pick a boot device, without an arbitrary time limit decided by someone who thinks every technician is chained to his keyboard and his eyes glued open in front of a screen”.

Seriously. You want BIOS setup? Hit tab for a few seconds after turning the PC on, and then probably the enter key because that’d be the first menu option. You want to boot from a CD? Hit tab, then the down arrow until your favourite CD drive is highlighted, then hit enter. You want more than a 3 milisecond look at the thing that says whether you’re in dual channel mode or not? Hit tab, then probably the up arrow and enter to wrap to the bottom of the list and continue booting normally.

A really smart setup like this would also pretend to hit a button when the Windows CD asks “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD…” so it actually DOES that, instead of timing out after 5 seconds and booting from IDE-0, despite you explicitly already telling the computer you want to boot from a CD. I have to make other people answer the phone because I’m stuck waiting for your shit-slow BIOS to wake up and give me options in case I boot from the wrong disk and Windows irrepairably messes up the drive letters.

Okay, that was a little angrier than intended, but the point stands. Tab for BIOS menu – who’s with me?

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