Windows 8 Enterprise: RTM preview

Windows 8 Enterprise: RTM preview

Summary: Windows 8 isn't just a consumer operating system. What does the Enterprise version, which is available to companies with Software Assurance subscriptions, have to offer?


Much of the attention on Windows 8 has, quite rightly, been focused on its role as a consumer-oriented operating system. But that's not the whole story — not by a long way. Although the majority of home users still run Microsoft's OS, its real heartland is the enterprise, where desktop and server operating systems work together in very different ways from in the home.

Windows 8 brings a simplification of the product range, with fewer editions and fewer ways of buying them. Now there are only three main editions: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise, plus a fourth Windows RT edition for ARM devices. Pro and Enterprise can join Active Directory domains, so they'll be the most likely versions for business users — and as Enterprise is reserved for companies with Software Assurance subscriptions, it's the version that will eventually arrive on most business desktops.

Upgrade issues
Upgrading to Windows 8 Enterprise from Windows 7 isn't as easy as it could be because licensing restrictions mean you can only upgrade from Windows 7 Pro and Windows 7 Enterprise. We expect most Windows 8 installs to be clean system refreshes, which will simplify things, but IT departments will need to have the infrastructure in place to handle volume licensing keys (test installs may need to use a command-line tool to install licences).

As part of our tests we installed Windows 8 Enterprise on a range of devices, including a recent desktop PC with multiple monitors, a pair of older laptops and a recent slate tablet. All ran the OS easily, using the 64-bit version to take full advantage of modern PC hardware.

Launch Windows 8 Enterprise, and you're into the new Start screen. If you put the desktop tile on the top left of the screen, it's easy to click and run your everyday desktop applications, just like in Windows XP or Windows 7. (See our gallery for more Windows 8 Enterprise screenshots.)

Booting up into Windows 8, you're dropped into the new Start screen. Microsoft's new UI is clean and fast, and easy to use with mouse and keyboard as well as on a touchscreen device. There's an underlying simplicity to the new UI that's possible to confuse with 'dumbing down', but it does make complex tasks easy once you learn that the whole screen is a search UI, and can be navigated by typing. The bundled PowerShell 3.0 also makes it easier for administrators to work with users' PCs wherever they may be.

The Windows Store is starting to fill with new applications designed for the new UI, but for now most of your time will be spent on the familiar desktop — with the new Start screen functioning as a search tool and program launcher. Some user training may be necessary, especially around the use of keyboard shortcuts, but the differences from earlier versions of Windows are unlikely to cause disruption — if only because line-of-business applications are likely to remain on the desktop.

Windows 8 sees the end of the Aero transparent UI introduced with Vista. A new theme arrived with the final builds of Windows 8, bringing the Start menu and modern-style applications' flat look-and-feel to the desktop. The new, flatter, UI removes Aero's transparent window borders, making it easier to switch between traditional desktop applications and WinRT apps.

In the desktop, Windows 8 is like Windows 7 — just faster and more power-efficient (our test laptops have gained an extra hour of battery life on average after updating with Windows 8). In nearly a year of testing Windows 8 we've only found a couple of applications that didn't work with the OS — and those that didn't had dependencies on specific hardware APIs that have been deprecated.

Businesses investing in next-generation applications using Microsoft's new WinRT (Windows Runtime) programming model will be able to deliver prepackaged applications to Windows 8 Enterprise systems without going through the Windows Store, as long as they are certified. Administrators can also use group policy to control access to the Store, at an individual, role or group level. The Applocker application whitelisting tool can also be used to control which applications are installed from the Store, although there's no way to control how application updates are applied — you can only control the initial installation.

While the consumer versions of Windows 8 use Microsoft's SkyDrive to handle file and settings synchronisation across all a user's PCs, you'll be able to set group policies to stop this, and to use the file synchronisation features in the upcoming SharePoint 2013 release. Windows Server 2012's Dynamic Access Control file and folder protection features will also help stop users from transferring data to home PCs via SkyDrive.

Enterprise-specific features
Much of what's in Windows 8 Enterprise is in the Pro release — and that includes important features like Hyper-V virtualisation, BitLocker disk encryption and the new File History (which can be configured to work with network shares as well as with local disk storage). However, Enterprise does include features that make it simpler to use Windows 8 on a corporate network.

If you want to take advantage of the newly simplified Direct Access tools in Windows Server 2012, which make it easier to connect directly and securely to corporate resources without requiring a VPN, then you're going to need Windows 8 Enterprise. The same is true of the Branch Cache features that turn remote office downloads of files and updates into a peer-to-peer network for faster access to data. If you're looking at using VDI, Windows 8 Enterprise supports RemoteFX for desktop-like graphics and for improved device integration — including touch support.

Windows To Go
Windows 8 Enterprise also includes the tools needed to make a Windows To Go USB drive. A fully-managed portable version of Windows, Windows To Go uses standard Windows image files to create a bootable version of Windows 8 — so if you're allowing your users to use Windows To Go, you'll need to create the appropriate image files and make them available for use. Users will also need USB 3.0 drives (which work in USB 2.0 ports), as these have faster flash memory chips with better random access performance than USB 2.0 drives. We'd also recommend using a drive with at least 32GB of space.

Windows To Go is a full Windows install, just running from a flash drive. It gets access to all of a host PC's processing power and memory — but not its disk drives or other storage. Everything you do stays on the flash drive, ready to move to another PC. (See our gallery for more Windows To Go screenshots)

Building a Windows To Go image is straightforward, with a simple wizard handling the process. Plug in an appropriate USB flash drive, find a deployment share, and click 'go' (remembering to turn on the built-in disk encryption). It takes about fifteen minutes to apply the installation image to a drive. You'll need to use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit solution accelerator to make custom images if you want to bundle apps in a Windows To Go install. Users are blocked from using the Windows Store on Windows To Go installs, although there is the option to use Group Policy to enable access — for individuals or for an entire organisation.

One big difference between the Pro and Enterprise editions is support for Media Centre. Microsoft has made Media Centre a separate download, but it's not supported on Windows 8 Enterprise — and any DVD or Blu-ray playback will require third-party tools. It's unlikely to be an issue for enterprise installs, but businesses that use Windows PCs as media-authoring and playback tools may find it easier to use Windows 8 Pro for systems in those roles.

With RTM code for Windows 8 Enterprise currently available on both TechNet and MSDN, IT professionals wanting to evaluate how the new Windows will work in their networks can download it and give it a try. With improved enterprise features, it's an operating system upgrade that, alongside Windows Server 2012, will help get your business architectures ready for the next generation of hardware and software — especially the cloud.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Reviews

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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  • nice

    concise and to the point review for a change. not the one sided crap we have been getting from cnet I from writers here in the U.S.. all saying bad ,bad,and fail. thanks for putting out the ever thing Microsoft has been putting in the developers pack each month and online that no one here even reads before writing their crap up. Thanks from across the great waters. peace dude
  • Windows 8 Enterprise: RTM preview

    Excellent article that really highlights the benefits of Microsoft Windows 8. Another article I can point to for when people ask about Windows 8. I'm strongly encouraging our company to move to Windows 8 sooner than later since everyone will be on it eventually anyway. I'm going to try to get into the test group for Windows To Go. Biggest benefit is that its faster and compatibility is still there for the company's apps. Now we just need to wait til October so everyone can enjoy this.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Sorry Loverock ......your pebble attempt to impersonate

      the zdnet immortal Mike Cox fails miserably .....keep trying you may get it right one day
      Over and Out
      • Glad to hear it

        Since I wasn't trying to do any impersonations I didn't fail at it. That works out well for me.
        Loverock Davidson-
        • You just fail...

          At everything. Doesn't matter what.
    • This post

      tells us Loverock is NOT in IT, but just one of those bothersome users that thinks they know it all.

      IT to Loverock....

      ."No problem I will just add you name to the ignor.....or umm the Windows 8 testing group, we will let you know via post card when/if your application has been accepted"
  • Great article

    and such a contrast to some of the drivel written by some of your colleagues on ZD Net.
  • Nice done!

    Finally someone writes about the strong points of Win8, not those biased pro Apple - hater MS biased post in desguise...
  • "The whole screen is a search

    UI that you can navigate by typing."

    You know, it's pretty damning praise to say the greatest feature in a Graphical User interface is the keyboard.
    • So you're praising the article/author then?

      If that's really the best you can come up with to criticise.


      Just because the article didn't start with "I hate it because it's not apple" you go through to pick out the slightest thing to criticise.
      Little Old Man
      • You can sit in denial all you want

        Metro is a usability nightmare on a non-touch device. Articles like this simply demonstrate that reality.
      • I use windows 8 on a no-touch laptop

        No problems doing everything I have always done and it runs faster than ever.

        I keep waiting for this nightmare to hit, but it never comes. What seems to be the usability nightmare you are having?
    • you do realize

      that this feature is for non-touch use of windows 8 right?
      • You do realize that having a UI that's useless for non-touch

        devices but that is a mandatory part of all non-touch devices is pretty stupid, right?
        • Broken record

          The UIis quite clearly designed for touch mouse and keyboard. I have my main three computers running on Windows 8, none of them have a touch device, yet I navigate the UI with keyboard and mouse with ease.

          Which begs the question if it might not be a whole lot better if you stop claiming it isn't ? As to me you either are too stupid to work a computer, or have some sort of agenda. Claiming this ui is for touch only is a lie.
          • Touch, mouse and keyboard

            are mutually exclusive ways of interacting with your computer. Merging them together is a good way to get a rotten experience with all three.

            Again, sit in denial all you want (or, what is more likely, keep posting as part of the MS marketing team), but reality doesn't care about your opinions. Interface design is also a science and MS ignored that science with Metro.
          • Yeah

            Of course, if someone states that they have no problem navigating the UI with keyboard and mouse they must be part of the Microsoft marketing team.

            I am not in denial, I am stating that I have no problems navigating the UI with keyboard and mouse. And judging from this thread I am certainly not the only one, geez I wonder if all of these people are also in denial or part of the MS marketing team.

            Of course touch, mouse and keyboard are not mutal exclusive, They can and should be used in combination, as they have been for many many years already, on Windows, on Osx and probalby on all future operating systems, you are just not ready for it, talk about being in denial.
          • So, when you're on the Metro screen ...

            ... on a non-touch system, and you want to scroll the screen left and right, and you are forced to work a scroll bar (the worst GUI element ever) instead of grabbing any part the desktop with a mouse click and dragging, that doesn't register in your mind as an utter and complete failure of the interface?

            That basic massive failure is noticable about 5 seconds after you log in the first time. Scrolling on the Metro screen is the first thing you want to do, and it doesn't work intuitively at all with a mouse. That's the first interaction with the OS and it's f-ing terrible! It just gets worse from there.
          • Tried the mouse wheel?

            I did and it works.
          • Two reasons why your answer is dumb

            1. I was using a laptop with a trackpad. So, no mouse wheel.
            2. If I was using a mouse, why should I expect that scrolling up and down with a mouse wheel would make the screen move left to right. That's just f-ing imbecilic UI design.