Thursday, January 05, 2012

Windows 8 on a stick... A look at the "Windows To Go" feature coming with Windows 8

HP Input Output - How Windows 8 on a Portable USB Drive Simplifies Your IT Processes

Live CDs” or “Live USB Keys” are a common practice of any IT pro and admin for testing and troubleshooting purposes. Now Microsoft takes the concept of a live operating system to a whole other level. The upcoming Windows 8, slated for a mid-2012 release, lets you run a managed Windows 8 corporate image off of a USB key, which doesn’t just include your line of business (LoB) applications but also corporate data, settings, and group policy. “Windows To Go” is a PC in your pocket.

The goal is to use a provisioned Windows 8 image on unsafe PCs or hand them out to contractor’s PCs, who are required to work in a safe environment.

Will it fit your IT shop? I dug a bit deeper and tested on various machines. In this article, I give you the Why, the How, and a bit of background on this feature, so you can plan ahead.


Deploying Windows To Go

Setting up Windows To Go is fairly straightforward. Admins provision a USB key as they would provision a laptop or desktop by applying the customized Windows image (“wim”) to the drive. All their tools and scripts (e.g. imagex) work fine; the USB drives could then be mass produced by using a USB duplicator such as this one.


The Experience

Your staff will have a near seamless experience when using the portable Windows 8 USB key. There’s no special boot menu or steps end users need to perform. They use it like they would use their regular desktop, except for setting up USB boot on their home PCs (which may require additional training). All changes, such as settings, installed programs or saved files, are all saved to the USB key and even synced to the cloud (if you opt in to Windows Live syncing for Windows 8).

To prevent data leakage (i.e. accidentally saving your corporate data on the host PC that your Windows 8 To Go Stick is plugged into), the OS actually hides the host’s drive. These drives are still visible through Disk Management (diskmgmt.msc), but they don’t show up in Windows Explorer. To be on the safe side, there’s also an option to encrypt the drive using BitLocker.

While testing this feature, it surprised me that Windows 8 doesn’t go crazy installing and messing with drivers when roaming between multiple machines. I seamlessly switched between a 2007 Core 2 Duo desktop and a 2011 Core i7 laptop with just a bit of driver reinstalls at the first use – no blue screens or errors whatsoever, which definitely would have been the case with previous versions. Digging a bit deeper into Windows To Go, I learned that Windows 8 creates a unique ID specific to a machine and only loads the necessary drivers based on this ID, so you only have to go through a few seconds of driver installation when first using the portable Windows 8 workspace.



I'm waiting for the beta of Win8 before I check this feature out, but at first glance, it looks kind of cool. I kind of dig the idea of my OS on a stick, for local data married with profiles/roaming data in the cloud. But I'll need to see it for real. Will this be a cool feature or become a "SideShow?" Only time will tell...

(via - "How Windows 8 on a Portable USB Drive Simplifies Your IT Processes": another insightful article from Sandro Villiger, this time on "Windows To Go")

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