What Windows 8 Can Do Today

Press-Only Briefings

At TechEd North America 2012 in Orlando, Fla., last week, Microsoft held a series of invitation-only briefings to provide press and analysts with a close-up look at what's coming in Windows 8, whenever that might be. Redmond is still tight-lipped about a release date for Windows 8, but the common wisdom still points to October. And with the holes still existing in the Windows 8 Release Preview unveiled earlier this month, we'd say there's at least one more preview coming; Microsoft's history is to put out a "release candidate" immediately prior to RTM. We shall see. In the meantime, here's a peek at what Windows 8 can do today.

Metered Connections

Windows 8 will be aware of metered mobile broadband accounts and will simplify the management of data plan usage. A new control panel in Windows 8 will display usage, allow resets and link with AT&T for direct account access; Vodaphone and other carriers are on tap. What's more, Windows Update has been made aware of metered connections and will download only critical patches. "When a Wi-Fi connection becomes available, Windows 8 will switch back to that preferred connection for large downloads and away from the metered one," said Craig Ashley, a Microsoft senior product manager.

Seven Clicks To VDI

Microsoft claims that the combination of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 will allow VDI deployments in seven clicks of the mouse. It didn't demonstrate that capability but Microsoft did demonstrate improvements in network optimization and over-the-wire graphics performance. "With VDI, the user experience always depends on the network," said Nikhil Balagopalan, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft. To optimize network performance and prevent boot storms, Balagopalan said that virus scans and other client tasks are automatically staggered, and performance of streamed graphics is improved thanks to adaptive codec selection in Microsoft's RemoteFX VDI protocol. Balagopalan is shown here with a side-by-side demonstration of performance differences with and without enhancements to RemoteFX.

Microsoft also implements Fairshare, which monitors and manages network usage. "If a user is downloading an HD movie and grabbing lots of bandwidth, [the server] throttles the rogue user so that everyone gets a minimum quality of service," he said.

Windows On USB, For BYOD

Beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft will finally permit Windows to boot from USB devices. This is not news, of course, but demonstrations of its capabilities are impressive nevertheless; Windows To Go will deliver much more than simply starting up from a USB stick. "Users are wanting to work from different places -- on an airplane, at the coffee shop -- and they want to work from more than one device," said Kerri Alexion-Tiernan, Microsoft's director of product management for Windows To Go. Included with the Windows 8 Enterprise Edition, Windows To Go implements the user's personalized Windows desktop with folder redirection. "This saves your data back to the data center so updates follow you," she said. Windows is not virtualized; it executes a full set of binaries, discovers devices and installs drivers for the host machine and remembers for faster subsequent boots. Windows To Go doesn't affect the host hard drive, and images can be managed and remotely wiped with System Center 2012. The capability will redefine light travel, BYOD and quick Windows deployment, and enable free-roam seating for military, police and other workers.

BitLocker For The Enterprise

Windows 8 will deliver a totally revamped and enterprise-ready version of MBAM, Microsoft's BitLocker Administration and Monitoring drive encryption technology. "Version 1.0 didn't come with robust enterprise management [capabilities]; it had no reporting and no basic management for keys," said Chris Hallum, senior product manager for Windows client security. According to Hallum, the new version will include compliance reporting for individual PCs and complete organizations, easier key provisioning and a self-service portal for key retrieval. And help desk staff will no longer need access to Active Directory to help with key retrieval. The tool also will implement a hard deadline for enforcement of protection policies. "Before, a user could postpone drive encryption protection indefinitely. Now you can set an end date for that." Integrated with SCCM 2007 and 2012, MBAM is now aware of the UEFI boot process and can force-boot a trusted, signed OS and prevent malware from getting in first.


More Windows 8 Coverage From CRN

The Latest on Windows 8:
Microsoft MDT 2012 Improves Windows 8
Windows 8 Will Favor IPv6, But Continue IPv4 Support
Asus, Acer First Up With Windows 8 Convertible Tablets