Although I remain skeptical that Windows 8 will be an immediate hit with the enterprise, there are some goodies coming in the new operating system that should appeal to the IT department. Here, I will outline eight such features and explain why I think they're good for business.
Windows To Go
You might be sick of hearing about the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, but it seems to be growing in popularity, with some pundits even going so far as to say that it could wipe out the need for an IT department. I am not one of those pundits. I believe that BYOD is too important to ignore, but believe that IT has a critical role to play, even in that movement.
Microsoft might be on to something here, though. With Windows To Go, a feature of the upcoming Windows 8 Enterprise, allows Windows 8 to be run from a USB stick on any Windows 7 or Windows 8 system. Now, organizations can provide those that need to use personal devices with a corporate Windows image in a way that's accessible.
Perhaps the downside here is that Windows To Go is that it requires Software Assurance in order to obtain Windows To Go use rights to use it at work and on a home PC. Further, Microsoft is introducing a new "companion license," employees can use Windows To Go on a personal device in the office.
Improved Task Manager
Not every improvement in Windows 8 is going to be immediately visible to the user. Some items will be behind the scenes, but will improve the overall support function. Once such tool is the lowly Task Manager, which hasn't gotten a lot of love over the years. Sure, Microsoft added the new Resource Monitor tool, which is fantastic, but with Windows 8, Microsoft has given Task Manager itself a huge functional facelift, making it much more useful and adding Metro application information. My TechRepublic colleague, Rick Vanover, gave the new Task Manager a full walkthrough a few months ago, so I won't repeat it all here, but have included a couple of updated screenshots below.
The new Task Manager in action
How Metro apps appear in Task Manager
Security is always a consideration in the enterprise. Windows 8 adds a new feature called Secure Boot, a feature which disallows the loading of unauthorized firmware, operating systems, and drivers at boot time. For x86 versions of Windows 8, Microsoft will require that vendors adding Secure Boot capabilities to their UEFI (as opposed to BIOS) systems also make provisions for users to be able to disable Secure Boot. For Windows RT (ARM)-based Windows 8, manufacturers will not be allowed to disable Secure Boot.
Hyper-V on the desktop
Although not revolutionary since hypervisors such as VMware Workstation and Virtual PC have been around for years, Microsoft's decision to fully bake Hyper-V into the Windows 8 client could have enterprise benefits. Hyper-V is far more capable than type 2 hypervisors that were available before on the client side and may be a boon for developers that need to run multiple operating systems.
Hyper-V on a Windows 8 desktop requires systems with processors that support Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) and with enough resources to run multiple operating systems.
SMB 3 is another behind the scenes improvement. But, when fully implemented, it's one that users will probably come to appreciate. SMB 3 brings to the table major performance and feature improvements. SMB 3 also boasts encryption in transit and other features, including a new feature known as SMB multichannel. This allows the system to use multiple network channels, increasing overall throughout and adding fault tolerance to the environment.
Another colleague of mine, Stephen Foskett, has written a definitive guide to what's new in SMB 3. It's worth a read.
Improved multi monitor support
Although Microsoft estimates the percentage of Windows users with multiple monitor installations in the low double-digits, for those people (myself included), multiple monitor support has often been frustrating, requiring add-ons in order for things to work as expected. For example, in my three-monitor setup, the taskbar appears on only one monitor. While this isn't a huge problem, it is a frustration. Windows 8 adds, for example, a multiple monitor taskbar and the ability to have different backgrounds on each display. While the background images won't matter much, having the taskbar across all assets will make life a bit easier for the 13.48% of desktop-based power users that use two displays. My ZDnet colleague, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, goes in depth into the new multi-monitor support in Windows 8.
I've been extremely concerned about some changes that Microsoft has made to Windows 8, namely the removal of the Start button and some window management challenges I see with Metro. However, as I start to use it more, I'm beginning to warm to it, but still believe that Microsoft needs to listen to their audience before the final product ships. That said, there are a number of business-friendly features that may be compelling for the enterprise user and administrator.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.