Today, Microsoft is releasing a Consumer Preview version of Windows 8, but don't be misled by the "Consumer" name. This is a beta of what will eventually become a major platform in business computing, with WinRT, and it's therefore an essential download for any company that has an IT infrastructure. However, Microsoft has provided a short Product Guide for Business that outlines the thinking behind some of its innovations.
Two well known changes are the introduction of a programmable touch-first Start screen to replace the Orb/Start button, and the release of a version for ARM processors, known as WOA (Windows On ARM).
The Product Guide for Business (PDF) brochure says: "ARM-based tablets running Windows 8 are ideal for workers who are constantly on the go and need a long-lasting battery". However, it notes that "the ARM-based version of Windows does not include the same manageability features that are in 32-bit and 64-bit versions". This may cause some companies to change their ideas about deploying ARM-based systems.
The guide also mentions Windows To Go as a way of implementing "alternative workplace scenarios" by providing secure access to a full corporate desktop by using Windows 8 on a USB memory stick. It says:
"Offsite temporary workers can be given a Windows To Go drive for the duration of their employment so that no corporate data is stored on their personal device. Remote and work-at-home employees can be issued a Windows To Go drive for regular work done outside of the office. In these scenarios, the Windows To Go drive enables remote worker productivity while helping keep corporate data safe."
DirectAccess is a feature where Windows 8 works with Windows Server 8 and Active Directory to provide an "instant VPN" connection without the user having to log on.
Windows 8 also comes with a new Internet Explorer 10, with increased support for HTML5. Microsoft says "the investments you’ve made in your web-based line of business applications carry over to Internet Explorer 10 with little effort because it supports IE9, IE8, IE7, and Quirks compatibility modes" -- a claim that any intelligent IT department will obviously want to check.
Many companies have been left with insecure and underperforming PCs running Windows XP because their IT departments failed to recognise or to prepare for the future, or were denied the funds to upgrade when required. No doubt the particularly slow ones will still be migrating to Windows 7 long after Windows 8 has been released, because the leap from XP to Windows 8 is a big one, and the risks are unknown.
However, companies that started rolling out Windows 7 in a timely manner can treat Windows 8 as an interesting experiment, and wait for its dramatic innovations to be debugged, enhanced or rolled back in Windows 9. There could be Windows 8 applications that encourage companies to deploy touch-screen tablets and laptops with full IT integration and control, and many IT departments will want to explore Metro programming and the new new WinRT. In general, however, it looks like an upgrade the corporate desktop can skip.
Fortunately, Windows 7 is a much more stable, more powerful and more secure operating system than Windows XP. Companies that started running Windows 7 in 2010 should therefore be able to enjoy six or seven years of economical and productive life before they need to roll out Windows 9, or whatever. Either way, the future-proofing process starts today with the Consumer Preview version of Windows 8. You can download it here: