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Is Windows To Go the Real Innovation of Windows 8?

Due to the buzz around the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, we've been treated to many variations on the pros and cons for tablets and desktops. However, the coverage tends to leave out what may be the single most useful feature of Microsoft's next-generation operating system: Windows To Go.

Essentially, Windows To Go puts a fully bootable Windows 8 installation on a USB drive. You'll carry around your OS and plug it into whatever device you need to use. If it's the first time you do so, the PC will configure all of the relevant device drivers, and store the necessary settings on the USB drive for next time. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is marketing this feature toward enterprise customers who might otherwise question the need to upgrade.

Creating a Windows To Go drive wasn't one of the features available for hands-on testing via the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica provided a way to 'build your own,' but admits that it's "a task that is not for the faint of heart, as it involves the command line." However, Microsoft has distributed several working Windows To Go drives at BUILD 2011 and MWC 2012 to demonstrate the feature.

Like everything else during this beta stage of Windows 8, we're unsure of exactly how everything will come together when the final release versions become available this fall. But we do know several important things about Windows To Go:

  • The basic and most obvious application for Windows To Go is for enterprise administrators to distribute pre-configured drives to each user of a corporate network. With one relatively low-cost deployment, a number of security and support headaches are immediately eliminated -- an elegant response to the growing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend.
  • Depending on the capabilities of the individual BYODs, this opens up very interesting cross-platform potential. Windows To Go has been tested on a MacBook [], and Windows 8 has already been proven on tablets, so this could verywell mean that we'll be seeing Windows 8 running on the iPads that are becoming increasingly prevalent in BYOD workplaces, although don't expect Apple to be falling over themselves to embrace this solution.
  • The Windows To Go portion of the USB drive will be 'locked down' using BitLocker, a 129-bit encryption for entire volumes. The built-in USB key will provide its own authentication,complimented by any necessary network logon credentials, and Microsoft assures that it will be compatible with BIOS and UEFI alike.
  • 'Host storage' (the connected computer's storage drives) will NOT be available, so the risk of spreading malware is virtually eliminated. Windows To Go can still access removable drives, and obviously shared network folders will be available just as they would be by logging in remotely. And capacity permitting, you can still download and store data to another volume on the USB drive to take with you when you unplug.
  • Speaking of which, if your USB drive is pulled out, Windows To Go will immediately stop responding on the host PC. You'll get a window (no pun intended) of opportunity to plug the drive back in, after which the computer will simply shut down; no unauthorized access that way.
  • Telecommuters will especially benefit from the flexible and portable nature of Windows To Go. All sorts of temporary logins such as contractors, consultants, customers, and guests can get on a corporate network (in-house or remotely) without needing dedicated hardware or special permissions.
  • There's no reason to restrict it to the corporate sphere. Windows To Go could be an idealway to run classrooms or other academic networks; students would get the same framework (perhaps with additional essential resources pre-loaded on the drive). And given the scalable, low-footprint nature of Windows 8, you're far less limited by specific device type and hardware capability

Can you imagine any other "outside-the-box" uses for Windows To Go? What are you excited / worried about in Windows 8?

Guest Post by Greg Buckskin

Bio: Greg Buckskin spends his days surfing the internet and writing on behalf of Connect with him onTwitter.

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