What exactly do you get with Windows 8 Pro?

What exactly do you get with Windows 8 Pro?

Summary: Windows 8 will come in only two retail flavors. One is the base edition, with no fancy marketing label, nothing to say it's a home or consumer edition. So what do you get with the Pro edition? The list of Pro-only features is short and to the point. No complex matrix required.


Microsoft has now cleared up at least one mystery about Windows 8 with the announcement that only two versions will be available for conventional desktop and notebook PCs. (The third edition, Windows RT, is only for ARM-powered devices that are still months away from entering the market.)

New PCs sold through consumer channels will mostly come with Windows 8. No fancy marketing label, nothing to say it’s a home or consumer edition. It’s a base—perfectly useful for most consumers and small businesses. What’s especially refreshing is that the list of features available in the Pro edition is short and to the point. There’s no need for complex matrixes to explain what’s in each edition (for Vista I needed two separate posts, and for Windows 7 it took me six pages, although the breakdown was more rational than in Vista).

Just check the list of a half-dozen items in this post. If you see something here that you can’t live without, you’ll want to pay for the upgrade to Windows 8 Pro. If not, save your dollars, pounds, or Euros.

Gallery: A deep dive into Windows 8 Pro features

Domain Join and Group Policy

This is the checklist item, the pair of quintessential features that have always differentiated consumer versions of Windows from their business counterparts.

The ability to join a Windows domain and access Active Directory resources is key to a managed Windows environment. The Group Policy editor exposes a slew of new, Windows 8-only policies that system administrators are eagerly awaiting. Pity that the ARM-based devices won’t be able to play in that same environment.

BitLocker and BitLocker To Go

This is a huge and very welcome change. Both of these features offer strong encryption that’s tailor-made for protecting data on portable devices.

BitLocker enables whole-drive encryption, making it possible for you to securely protect the data on a hard disk. If a notebook PC is stolen, it’s trivially easy for an attacker to mount the drive, take ownership of the files, and steal whatever data is there. BitLocker makes that impossible—or at least too difficult for anyone but the NSA to even try cracking the encryption.

BitLocker To Go is an exceptional security benefit if you carry valuable data in your pocket on a USB flash drive. The encryption process doesn’t require any special hardware, and if you lose the flash drive a would-be thief won’t be able to read its data. A new feature for Windows 8 lets you back up the encryption key to your SkyDrive account so you can unlock the drive using your online credentials if you forget the BitLocker To Go password.

Boot from VHD

Microsoft introduced this feature in Windows 7, and my first reaction was, “Huh?” But after playing with the feature on Windows 8 I’m a believer.

Boot from VHD eliminates the hassle of dual booting. Instead of messing with hard disk partitions, you create a virtual hard disk (VHD) file—a process that takes literally seconds. When you attach the VHD file to your existing copy of Windows, it acts exactly like a physical drive. In the example below, I created a 60GB VHD on an Ultrabook running Windows 7 Ultimate edition and installed Windows 8 on the virtual disk. I can keep using the production copy of Windows 7 for mainstream tasks and boot into Windows 8 when I want to test it.

The VHD-based Windows installation isn’t a virtual machine—it has full access to all hardware resources. It’s an ideal test bed if you want to try a new app without compromising the integrity of your existing system, or if you need to do a demo. You can back up the entire installation by copying the VHD file, and when you no longer need the second Windows installation, you can blow it away by simply deleting the file and removing its entry from the boot menu.

Client Hyper-V

Microsoft has had wimpy virtualization solutions for its desktop Windows versions for years. Windows 7 used Windows Virtual PC as the engine to enable its XP Mode feature, which made it possible to run otherwise incompatible legacy apps.

But Hyper-V blows the doors off anything that Microsoft has previously delivered for a client version of Windows. It is a full-strength hypervisor, essentially identical to the Hyper-V platform in Windows Server editions at a fraction of the price. If you know how that platform works, you’ll be right at home with Hyper-V in Windows 8. You can run any 32-bit or 64-bit Windows version—desktop or server. If you need to spin up a Windows domain controller or web server quickly, no problem.

For developers, IT pros, and security researchers, it’s a godsend.

Encrypting File System

This is old-school stuff, a part of the Windows NT family for nearly two decades. EFS is for locking down directories (they didn’t call them folders back in 1993). It’s reasonably strong and a good alternative if you want to avoid the risks of BitLocker’s whole drive encryption. It’s worth noting, though, that there are plenty of free encryption alternatives, so it’s unlikely that this feature is the one that will push you to upgrade.

Remote Desktop (host)

This is another old-school feature that has been a part of business versions of Windows forever. These days there are lots of ways to connect to a PC across a network or over the Internet, but Remote Desktop is my favorite because it’s just so fast and smooth. Setting up a Remote Desktop host take literally a few clicks, and Remote Desktop clients are included with every Windows version and are also easy to find for non-Windows platforms.

The one feature I didn’t mention here, of course, is Windows Media Center. Microsoft has decided that Media Center—which debuted 10 years ago and has been a defining feature of the Home Premium editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7—will be an optional add-on in Windows 8. You'll need to pay extra for the "media pack," and it will only work with Windows 8 Pro. I’ll have more to say about that later.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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  • I am a bit confused . . .

    . . . about the difference between VHD and CH-V. What are the difference and advantages?
    • CH-V?

      I have no idea what that is.
      Ed Bott
      • It was my short-cut for . . .

        Client Hyper-V
    • VHD is a file format, Hyper-V is a platform

      A VHD is a file. In Windows 8, you can create a virtual hard disk in either the VHD or VHDX file formats. You can then mount that virtual disk (treating it like a big Zip file with its own drive letter), copy it to another machine, etc. You can also boot from the VHD or attach it to a virtual machine.

      Client Hyper-V is a virtualization platform. It allows you to create, configure, and run virtual machines (VMs) running any supported operating system. Hyper-V VMs use the resources of the host machine but all of the resources available to the host machine are virtualized, so the VM never addresses them directly.

      With a VM, you can run two or more OSes simultaneously, so you can switch between one or more VMs and your physical host machine. If you boot to a VHD, the VHD acts as your physical drive, Nothing else is virtualized.

      Does that help explain it?
      Ed Bott
      • Thankyou

        That helps but it will probably make more sense why I try those :-)
      • Humm!

        I'll stick with Linux! To many virus's and the rest of the garbage that windows is wide open to!
  • Is it true Windows Media Center is only available via Windows 8 Pro?

    (As an extra plug-in.)
    • Yes, that is true

      See the last paragraph of this post.
      Ed Bott
      • Oops, missed that.


        There will be 2 versions of WINDOWS 8 for PC upgrades. One is called "WINDOWS 8". This is the typical home version that people will upgrade to from WINDOWS 7 HOME PREMIUM.
        Then there will be "WINDOWS 8 PRO" That will be the version that business users or high end computer users will want.
        Here is what I don't understand. I've read that, for a fee, the PRO version can have WINDOWS MEDIA CENTER included, but not with the standard version.

        What is that all about?! Wouldn't the home user be the one that would want MEDIA CENTER? Maybe I'm missing something, but this just does not seem right.
        • money money money money

          Anyone who really wants Media Center would have to buy W8 Pro and Media Center. More revenue and more profits for MSFT.

          Just because there's a 'Pro' in its name doesn't mean W8 Pro can't be used on home machines. So maybe more accurate to have labeled the versions Basic and Ultimate rather than [nothing] and Pro, and certainly more accurate to consider them Basic and Ultimate.
    • No Media Center...

      .... XBMC here I come.
      • Well....

        XBMC won't work with cable cards...
  • Many businesses

    Will be thrilled that bitlocker is now included in the pro version, as previously it was only included in Ultimate or Enterprise.
  • Looks Windows To Go is in Enterprise only

    Hopefully it is still coming in Pro, since Windows To Go is a feature I would love to have.
  • Doesn't look like enough to justify another product...

    An add-on as media centre appears appropriate.
    Richard Flude
  • Windows Media Player

    From Mary Jo Foley's blog (4/17/12, 1:05 PM):

    Windows RT also will not include Windows Media Player or Storage Spaces, while both Windows 8 Consumer and Windows 8 Professional will.

    Now did she mean as an add-on as you said or will it be included?
    • Windows Media Player

      Uhh, I read"Player", but saw "Center," my mistake.
  • What exactly do you get with Windows 8 Pro?

    That's good enough for me. I love how Microsoft's Windows 8 approach is to keep everything simple. Its only a matter of time before I'm running the retail version on my hardware.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • What about under the hood differences?

    For example Windows 7 Home Premium is limited to 16GB of memory. You need to step up to Pro if you want to use more. Will Windows 8 also provide this kind of differentiation?