Windows 8: Features the channel needs to know about

Microsoft announced last month that Windows 8 will be sold in three editions: two for PCs powered by x86 processors and one for ARM-based tablets, called Windows RT.

The “PC versions” are divided into “Windows 8” and “Windows 8 Pro,” a simplified structure that harkens back to the Windows XP days of two versions, Home and Professional. In contrast, Windows Vista and Windows 7 came in six editions: Home Basic, Starter Edition, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.

Windows 8, put simply, will be the version for consumers, taking the place of Windows 7 Home Premium. Windows 8 Pro — comparable to Windows 7 Professional or Enterprise — includes encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity features. This will be the version for tech enthusiasts and IT professionals.

(There is also a version called Windows 8 Enterprise that includes everything in Windows 8 Pro plus additional PC management tools. It will only be available for large companies to buy in bulk.)

Microsoft has not released information yet on pricing or availability for Windows 8.

Most of the features exclusive to Windows 8 Pro involve security, networking and virtualization, all technologies that IT pros use every day and need to be aware of. It’s worth noting that, if you’re going to upgrade, you can only upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate.

Here are five standout enterprise features in Windows 8 Pro.

BitLocker and BitLocker To Go

The BitLocker hard-drive encryption feature was introduced in Windows Vista Business editions to protect data on lost or stolen laptops. And in Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate editions, the feature was extended and called BitLocker To Go to protect data on portable storage devices such as USB thumb drives.

Both features will be available in Windows 8 Pro. BitLocker and BitLocker To Go offer full-disk encryption, and only IT admins can turn the feature on or off.

Domain Join and Group Policy

These are both key features in Windows that consumers never think about, but they are essential for IT pros managing Windows machines. Domain Join will allow IT admins using Windows 8 Pro to access Active Directory, where they can set PC management and security policies through the Group Policy feature. Using Active Directory, IT pros can verify passwords and specify whether users are system administrators or normal users.

Client Hyper-V is a virtualization technology that allows users to create virtual machines. With Windows 8 Pro, it will be available in a client version of Windows for the first time. The Hyper-V technology was previously only available in Windows Server editions.

Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate versions use a similar virtualization feature called Windows XP Mode, which allows users to run older XP-only applications on Windows 7 through a Microsoft virtual machine.

However, Client Hyper-V is a much more powerful virtualization tool than XP Mode and should serve Windows 8 Pro well.

Booting from VHD

The Booting from VHD (virtual hard disk) feature, introduced in Windows 7 business editions and available in Windows 8 Pro, allows IT pros to create virtual drives for testing apps or testing beta versions of an operating system without affecting the performance of the computer’s actual OS. A VHD installation is not a virtual machine, which can hinder a PC’s overall performance.

Remote Desktop (Host)

Remote desktop functionality is nothing new in Windows. Windows 8 and Windows RT both include a Remote Desktop client. But if you want to host that remote desktop session, then you will need Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise.

What’s the difference between host and client? Remote Desktop hosting provides the “connect to” capabilities, whereas a Remote Desktop client just provides the ability to be accessed.

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at [email protected]

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