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Windows 8 Review, Part 7: Business Features

This is part 7 of an ongoing 8-part review of Windows 8. Previous parts to this review discussed the many improvements to the desktop in Windows 8, the often uneasy relationship between that desktop and the new Metro environment, how that new Metro environment is in fact a completely new mobile platform on which Microsoft is staking its future, the new productivity environment and apps, the new entertainment apps, and the reliability, security and networking features in this new OS.

As with other parts of this review, I suspect many will be surprised by how many new business features there are, since it’s so easy to fall into a trap where Windows 8 is only for consumers. But Windows 8 also includes a surprisingly deep range of business-oriented features too. Here’s an overview of them.

New group policies

Windows 8 (and Windows Server 2012) include support for over 350 new group policy settings, many of which are of course related to new Windows 8 features. Some of the biggies include managing enterprise deployment of Metro-style apps, settings sync, new folder redirection and profile roaming functionality, Windows To Go, and much, much more. Over 150 of these policies are related to Internet Explorer 10.

Disk encryption improvements

Microsoft has been evolving its BitLocker technologies since Windows Server 2008, adding portable device protection via BitLocker To Go a few years back and, in Windows RT, always-on full disk encryption. In Windows 8, we see further evolution, with pre-install BitLocker provisioning and a more efficient new encryption scheme that only encrypts used space on a protected disk.

Client Hyper-V

In Windows 8, Microsoft is bringing its powerful hypervisor-based virtualization platform to the Windows client for the first time. Client Hyper-V is the real thing, not a watered down version of the server product, but unlike the previous Windows Virtual PC solution, it’s not aimed at backwards compatibility for older applications. This time, the focus is on developers who need to test their solutions in multiple environments and IT pros and admins who want to create and configure VMs locally and then move them up to production servers when they’re ready to go.

VHD and ISO shell integration

Windows 8 finally integrates common disk image formats like VHD (virtual hard disk, used by Hyper-V) and ISO with the file system. Now you can just double-click either file type and its contents—a HDD or disc layout—will be mounted in the file system with a drive letter and could be used as it were a real disk. This has huge usability implications—you can now install ISO-based applications without first burning them to disc, for example—as well as efficiency gains related to the live editing of VHDs. But files can be unmounted from the file system by using the normal Eject method. You know, just like a real disk.

Remote Desktop

All versions of Windows 8—yes, including Windows RT—include the desktop-based Remote Desktop Connection software. (And a free Metro version of the app is available in Windows Store as well.) These solutions let you connect to remote computers using Microsoft’s RDC technology and access them through a window, much as you access virtual machines in a window using Hyper-V Manager or Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection.

Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise both include Remote Desktop Host (RDH), which allows you to host remote connections.

Windows 8 Enterprise: Windows To Go

Windows 8 Enterprise is available to Microsoft’s volume licensing customers and provides a number of additional features above what’s available in Windows 8 Pro. A few really stand out, but the big one is Windows To Go. While the notion of portable OSes is familiar to those in the Linux camp, it’s new to Windows. But give Microsoft credit for getting it right: Windows To Go is a fully manageable Windows 8 environment that lives on a USB memory stick (or HDD). It can be encrypted with BitLocker, can include your applications and data, and can allow you to get work done using any PC in the world, using your own, custom environment. I’ll be writing more about Windows To Go soon.

Windows RT features for business

While Windows RT is aimed largely at consumers, it’s also an answer to the iPad in business and as such Microsoft has given it a set of management capabilities that sit neatly between the de facto standard of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), which is used to manage mobile devices, and the group policies we’re familiar with for PCs. This management solution will require Windows Intune at first, but it means that Windows RT devices, like Surface, are both more manageable and more secure than any iPad or Android device.

But wait, there’re more

In the final part of this review, I’ll tell you what I really think about Windows 8 and whether this new Windows version is a good upgrade for current PCs. My conclusion may surprise you.

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