"Windows 8 will deliver no-compromise experiences on a range of devices, from tablets and PCs to desktops," Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany. "It will give people the functionality they love and the enterprise-grade capabilities that IT departments demand."
Here's a look at eight features in Windows 8 that could help Microsoft keep that promise to its business customers.
Microsoft's touch-friendly Metro interface could be a boon for mobile workers like delivery personnel or store clerks who need to keep their hands free as much as possible. Workers could view and log key business data with the touch of an icon on Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft is also giving enterprise application developers the tools they need to create custom Metro apps for their businesses. Those apps will be capable of feeding real-time business data to Live Tiles on the home screen, and can be distributed internally so workers don't have to go outside the firewall to download them from the Windows Store.
[ What can the Win 8 Consumer Preview divulge about the final version? See Windows 8 Beta: 8 Insights For IT. ]
2. Windows To Go
For companies that hire a lot of consultants, contractors, and other temporary workers, and need to give those personnel access to a corporate desktop image and apps without granting full server permissions, Windows To Go provides a way. Users can boot a preconfigured, IT-certified Windows 8 image onto any laptop from a USB drive. It also allows users to boot up a Windows 8 image on a Windows 7 PC.
3. Desktop Virtualization
With Windows 8 Hyper-V running locally on a PC, enterprise developers can deploy and test multiple versions of apps and operating system configurations in isolated environments on a single system, rather than requiring a PC for each test configuration. That should help cut down on hardware costs for development teams, while making testing more efficient and less risky. Hyper-V virtualization needs a 64-bit system with second level address translation (SLAT) and an extra 2 GB of RAM.
4. Secure Boot
Secure Boot is a security process designed to prevent malware from infecting computers during startup, before Windows and all of its built-in safeguards are launched. Secure Boot works by confirming that all components contain the appropriate security certificates before they are allowed to launch. To meet Microsoft's Windows Certification requirements, PCs and tablets must ship with Secure Boot enabled. It can be turned off by the end user in PCs, but not in tablets. Secure Boot requires UEFI BIOS to run, which is only found on the newest PCs.
Another security feature, BitLocker drive encryption is a holdover from Windows Vista, but will run best on PCs equipped with the Trusted Platform Module, which may need to be enabled in the BIOS settings. Microsoft said that in Windows 8 BitLocker encrypts drives more quickly, meaning a reduction in worker downtime while data is being encrypted. One way it achieves this is by handing encryption off to hardware, and also by only encrypting used parts of the disk drive. Free spaces are encrypted later as they come into use.
6. File Management
Windows 8 features several new tools designed to ease file management, especially when copying numerous files. A new interface box gives users a combined view of all concurrently running copy jobs. The box shows which jobs are running, lists the file source and destination for each job, and shows what percentage of each is complete. Another new tool provides the ability to manage each job separately. Any copy job underway can be paused, resumed, or canceled independently of the others. The tools could be a boon to publishers, law firms, and other businesses that deal with large volumes of documents.
7. Smartscreen ARS
Windows 8 features built-in software that's designed to guard against employees downloading malicious applications, which could be programmed to steal corporate data or wreak havoc on a network. Smartscreen Application Reputation Service warns users when an application they are about to download is more likely to be unsafe. It works by comparing the app to known reputation data. Commonly used apps from trusted vendors get the green light, while more obscure software triggers a warning.
8. Win7 Compatibility
Microsoft says apps and utilities that run on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8, meaning that enterprises needn't hold off jumping from XP to Windows 7 in anticipation of Windows 8 becoming available, as their software and development investments should be protected. This is true, but only to a point. Legacy Windows apps, including those written for Windows 7, will not run on the ARM-based version of Windows 8 for tablets.
Microsoft has yet to release a final ship date or pricing details for the various versions of Windows 8 it plans to roll out, though many analysts predict that the OS will be available later this year.
Windows is currently a nobody in the tablet market. That could change with the release of Windows 8, the first version designed for touch screens and the tablet form factor. With the new Metro user interface, Microsoft will try to serve both tablet and desktop markets. Can it succeed? Find out at our Byte webcast, What Impact Will Windows 8 Have On The Tablet Market?. It happens March 14. (Free registration required.)