Why You Need Windows 8 Enterprise Now
Many consider Windows 8 Professional to be the version of Microsoft’s flagship desktop OS most suited to enterprises. This isn’t exactly true, as Windows 8 Professional has a big brother of sorts aimed squarely at these organizations. I’m speaking, of course, of the aptly named Windows 8 Enterprise.
Windows 8 Enterprise builds on the foundation of the business features found in Windows 8 Professional. Everything in Windows 8 Professional can be found along with six key additions unique to Windows 8 Enterprise. These include:
- Windows to Go
- VDI enhancements to improve multimedia rich experiences through RemoteFX
- App Sideloading turned on by default
Windows to Go
Windows to Go, arguably the most discussed feature of Windows 8 Enterprise, is a petite version of the OS that can be loaded and run from a USB flash drive. The goal of this is to create a secure, manageable, and portable corporate desktop experience that users can run on any hardware. Bringing their own PC to work, using their home computer, or even using the PC at the local library—it doesn’t matter, as the user will have their corporate desktop once they boot from their flash drive. Even better, at least for the IT department, is that when the user unplugs the flash drive from the PC, no traces of the corporate desktop, or corporate data, is left behind.
As compelling as Windows to Go is, it isn’t without a few drawbacks. First, it takes a bit to create the deployment image. Second, it requires using a certified flash drive of which, at the time of this article, there are precisely four supported manufacturers. Not exactly an overwhelming number. Another possible limitation is that Windows to Go disables the Windows Store by default.
Possibly the most valuable feature of Windows 8 Enterprise to organizations is DirectAccess. DirectAccess allows mobile corporate PCs and Windows to Go desktops to connect securely into the enterprise network early in the boot process and completely automatically. A user booting a Windows to Go image at the local library would not only be able to process corporate login scripts, but also access files and printers back at the office. Think of it as a VPN without the VPN client. This gem of functionality isn’t new, but it is considerably improved. For one thing, deployment is many times easier in this iteration.
BranchCache is great for organizations with limited WAN bandwidth. Local PCs no longer need to download every file or website from the WAN even though the PC one cubicle over just downloaded the same file. With BranchCache in the mix, local caches serve up previously retrieved content to computers via the LAN, thus preserving the WAN for unique requests. Through its distributed cache mode, even organizations with only a handful of PCs and no resources for a dedicated hosted cache server can benefit from what BranchCache has to offer. BranchCache is also not new, but definitely improved. Improvements to how BranchCache works and deduplication algorithms bring the product to a new level.
AppLocker and App Sideloading
AppLocker is another improved feature from Windows 7 Enterprise that’s essentially whitelisting and blacklisting for software applications. Just as users select approved senders and denied senders to control spam from infiltrating their email, IT admins can use AppLocker to control what apps will, and will not, run on a PC. The IT department can set up one PC with all the organization’s software then, using a wizard, capture that configuration for AppLocker to use as a set of rules. Assign these rules to users or groups, and their PCs will now run only those applications that were present on that reference machine. If for instance they try and install Angry Birds, a big corporate no-way hammer drops down and prevents it. It’s a very effective tool for preventing malware or the lost productivity brought on by a Solitaire addiction.
The last two benefits of Windows 8 Enterprise are the least impressive. Through enhancements to RemoteFX support and by utilizing a Windows Server 2012 backend, Windows 8 Enterprise users can remotely access their virtualized desktop and have an experience much closer to that of a physical desktop. CAD, 3D video, USB port access and, new to this version of Windows, touchscreen support—all improve the VDI user experience. On the app side, loading or the ability to deploy apps from a custom enterprise app store instead of the Windows Store is enabled by default only in Windows 8 Enterprise. In other versions of Windows 8, it’s turned off and IT has to jump through some extra hoops to get it working. This is really only meaningful to organizations intending to develop and deploy their own custom Windows 8 native applications.
How to get Windows 8 Enterprise
Not only is Windows 8 marketed to organizations rather than consumers, it can only be acquired through methods most consumers aren’t familiar with and, to put it frankly, probably don’t want to become familiar with. Windows 8 Enterprise can be had one of two ways: either through volume licensing or via the lesser-known route of a Windows InTune subscription.
Microsoft volume license customers that have a Windows license with Software Assurance can stroll on over to the Volume License Service Center and download Windows 8 Enterprise immediately. No muss, no fuss, and no extra charge. Of course, these folks probably already know all this.
The less common, but just as effective, route to Windows 8 Enterprise nirvana is through a Windows InTune subscription. Windows InTune is a Microsoft cloud-based system management offering for smaller organizations. For the low price of $11 per month, Microsoft will provide device management, app deployment, virus and malware protection and more, all from the cloud. Part of that “more” that I mentioned is, you guessed it, license rights to download and deploy Windows 8 Enterprise.
Few organizations will realize the value in all of Windows 8 Enterprise’s enhanced feature set. With that said, almost all organizations will be able to find value in at least some of the features. Be it Windows to Go, BranchCache, DirectAccess or AppLocker, there’s gold to be mined from Windows 8 Enterprise. The answer to how much and how valuable is as unique as the organizations who deploy it. If you haven’t explored Windows 8 Enterprise yet, what’s holding you back?