Earlier this week Microsoft revealed the lineup of Windows 8 versions—trimmed down to three to keep things simple. Basically, Microsoft will offer Windows 8 for consumers, Windows 8 Pro for business users, and Windows RT—which is barely Windows 8—as a special version dedicated to ARM-based hardware like tablets.
At the end of the Microsoft blog post, though, was a mention of a fourth version—Windows 8 Enterprise. Brandon LeBlanc explained that Windows 8 Enterprise will have all of the features of Windows 8 Pro and added, “plus features for IT organization that enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, new mobility scenarios, and much more.”
What business wouldn’t rather have the version of Windows 8 that includes all of that? Even small and medium businesses need to manage and deploy Windows, secure and protect systems, and address virtualization and mobility.
Here are some of the key features only available in Windows 8 Enterprise:
Windows To Go
Windows To Go is one of the coolest features of Windows 8. It enables a fully manageable Windows 8 system to be loaded on a bootable USB thumb drive. The first version of Windows 8 I played with came on a USB thumb drive from Microsoft and allowed me to boot to Windows 8 and use the new OS without having to install anything.
In an era of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), Windows To Go gives businesses a powerful tool. Users can bring virtually any personal hardware, and the company can supply the managed Windows 8 environment using Windows To Go. The user’s personal OS and applications won’t impact the business, and the business OS and applications won’t conflict with the user’s personal environment. Win-win.
DirectAccess is not new to Windows 8, but it is unique to Windows 8 Enterprise. DirectAccess lets remote systems behave as if they’re on the internal network without the need for a separate VPN connection. Users can connect to and access resources on the internal network from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection, and the IT manager can keep the remote systems patched and up to date, as well as monitor and enforce policy compliance.
BranchCache is also not new to Windows 8, but makes a compelling case for businesses to choose Windows 8 Enterprise. BranchCache boosts performance and minimizes network bandwidth consumption by enabling PCs to cache files, websites, and other content, then share it locally in a peer-to-peer fashion so it isn’t redundantly downloaded across the WAN.
These are just a few of the capabilities that are unique to Windows 8 Enterprise. Windows 8 Pro is far superior to Windows 8, but far short of Windows 8 Enterprise, and the features included in Windows 8 Enterprise are crucial features businesses need. Microsoft should eliminate Windows 8, offer Windows 8 Pro as the consumer version, and make Windows 8 Enterprise the default for businesses.
According to the earlier Microsoft blog post, Windows 8 Enterprise is reserved for customers with Software Assurance licensing agreements. However, Windows InTune includes perpetual licensing for Windows, and the current version is Windows 7 Enterprise so it seems reasonable to assume SMBs will have access to Windows 8 Enterprise as well through Windows InTune.