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Windows 8 Beta: 8 Insights For IT

Microsoft Windows 8 Consumer Preview, now available for download, gives valuable information to enterprise IT pros preparing for the final version.

Microsoft on Wednesday released Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the beta version of its new, touch-centric operating system. While the preview mostly aims to give the general public a look at the most radically redesigned version of Windows since Windows 95, it also provides many insights for enterprise IT professionals who will eventually need to deal with Windows 8.

Here's a look at several key features that IT pros should know about in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Most will also apply to the final version of Windows 8, which is expected to be released later this year.

1. Homegrown Metro apps. Businesses can create their own Metro-style enterprise apps in order to bring a touch interface to software that controls functions like inventory control, maintenance scheduling, and supply chain management. Businesses can make those apps directly available to employees from Windows Server, bypassing the Windows Store. That allows businesses to keep the apps (and key corporate data they might contain) inside the firewall.

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2. Custom Live Tiles. Metro is built around Live Tiles, blocks of GUI real-estate that display real-time information from social networks, instant messaging, e-mail, and other services. Microsoft revealed Wednesday that businesses that create their own Metro apps will be able to feed data from those apps to corresponding Live Tiles. The goal: Give workers at-a-glance information about key operations. For instance, the Live Tile for an inventory app could display a warning when inventory is low.

3. Windows Store blocking. Microsoft's Windows Store, a beta version of which also became available Wednesday, will be the sole source of Metro apps for consumers. To prevent it from becoming a distraction to office workers, Microsoft is offering tools that will allow admins to block access to Windows Store.

4. Legacy support. Organizations that want to try out Windows 8 Consumer Preview immediately should, for the most part, be able to get a feel for how it runs their business software. Microsoft says that the "majority" of legacy applications that run in Windows 7 and older versions of Windows should run in Win8 CP. However, the company did not specify which applications, or application types, might not run, so it's enterprise user beware.

5. Remote Management. Windows 8 Consumer Preview will support Microsoft remote technologies that are designed to give workers maximum mobility while allowing IT departments to maintain control over their computing systems. The OS, for instance, is compatible with Windows To Go, Direct Access, Cloud Connect, and BranchCache.

6. ARM issues. Windows 8 versions, including Windows 8 Consumer Preview, that run on x86 or x64 chips from Intel or AMD will be able to take advantage of familiar Microsoft back-end management tools. But systems, mostly tablets, that run on hardware powered by ARM chips will not. Microsoft said it envisions businesses using Windows on Arm systems in "unmanaged environments."

7. Internet Explorer 10. Windows 8 Consumer Preview isn't just an OS sneak peak, it also gives the public and businesses their first look at IE10. The browser offers a number of key enterprise-related features. It offers backwards compatibility back through IE7, so Web-based business apps that run in older versions of Explorer shouldn't need much tweaking. There are some limitations, however. Some business apps may not function in IE10's Metro mode--those that rely on legacy ActiveX controls, for instance. However, they should run in the traditional desktop mode for IE10.

8. Migration. Microsoft is offering a full range of migration tools that enterprises can use to automate many of the processes involved with porting desktops and laptops to Windows 8. ACT (Application Compatibility Toolkit) has been updated to support Windows 8, as has the User State Migration Tool. Windows Recovery Environment has also been updated.

Microsoft has published a downloadable guide to Windows 8 Consumer Preview. While the final version of Windows 8 is expected to ship later this year, Microsoft has not confirmed a launch date.

Attend this Enterprise 2.0 webcast, Rebalancing The IT-User Relationship: The Business Value In Consumerization, and learn how the consumerization of IT will ultimately help organizations drive innovation and productivity, retain customers, and create a business advantage. It happens March 7. (Free registration required.)

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