Windows 8 is coming soon, with a release candidate scheduled for sometime in June and Microsoft has divulged a little more information about its expected lineup of products including Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT.
Windows 8 is the basic consumer version of the operating system, appealing in large part to current Windows 7 Starter and Home editions. Windows 8 Pro aims to please the Professional and Ultimate users. One surprising step in this adjustment is the lack of a true Ultimate edition, leaving the Pro version as the peak of the mountain in terms of features. This could be a very good thing, as the various versions and comparison charts needed to navigate Windows Vista and Windows 7 world were nothing less than a confusing mess.
For everyday users, the differences between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro are negligible. Both do just about everything normal users would need. Only the advanced users who would make use of features like remote access hosting and BitLocker should really see any need to opt for the Pro version.
That said, here is a breakdown of features exclusive to Windows 8 Pro.
BitLocker and BitLocker To Go
BitLocker and BitLocker To Go are powerful tools for data security that enable you to encrypt the entire operating system drive in addition to any data drives you might be using. In addition, BitLocker To Go grants use of this powerful encryption functionality to removable data drives including USB flash drives.
BitLocker is a full disk encryption solution that is either on or off. Only administrator accounts can toggle it.
BitLocker To Go is a great way to employ full-drive encryption to smaller drives. This allows you to encrypt your USB thumb drive or other removable drive so that it can be taken with you without risk of your vital data falling into the wrong hands.
Boot from VHD
Booting from a virtual hard disk (VHD) is a useful feature if you work in a development or testing environment, enabling you to access all of your system’s hardware as if you were booting from your primary physical drive. Unlike virtual PC applications, Boot from VHD gives you none of the performance loss caused by a virtual PC.
Theoretically, you could stack a series of VHDs up and boot from any one of them you need. The addition of Client Hyper-V allows you to create these virtual disks right out of the box.
Client Hyper-V is a feature that was previously exclusive to Server editions of Windows. Now available on Windows 8 Pro, Client Hyper-V is a virtualization technology that enables the user to create virtual machines. The best comparison currently available for non-server versions of Windows is XP Mode, which allows users to run programs as if they existed within a native Windows XP environment.
Hyber-V has long been a server-only powerhouse. In Windows 8 Pro, this feature will become part of the client experience. Coupled with the Boot to VHD feature, this could be a powerful tool for developers.
Encrypting File System (EFS)
EFS is a lot like BitLocker, except it operates on the file/folder level instead of requiring that the entire drive be encrypted. It also enables non-administrative accounts access to file and folder encryption where BitLocker can only be switched on by someone with an administrator level account.
Furthermore, BitLocker requires a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) in order to work. This module is a microchip installed on many modern systems, but not all. EFS gives you the ability to enjoy the benefits of encryption without requiring specific hardware to do it.
Domain Join gives you the ability to access Active Directory resources in your network. This is a useful feature for businesses with a central technology management structure. It can be used to differentiate administrators from normal users on connected systems.
Group Policy is one of those features that appeals most to business users. Managed Windows environments benefit from the added administrative capabilities brought on by Group Policies. Some of these policies enable for centralized management of workstations. For example, allowing a manager to access certain features of Windows while entry-level employees have more restricted access.
This allows companies to lower the cost of support, with less of a chance that employees would make accidental changes that break productivity.
Remote Desktop (host)
Being able to remotely access a computer is a given on Windows 8, though hosting that remote connection is still a right given only to the Pro version.
Administrators often use this feature to set up multiple “headless” systems and control them by way of a single client computer and monitor. This enables for a lower desktop footprint and in reduction in power usage. Unlike a direct connection, an administrator can access these systems from anywhere.
I’ve worked with a few IT pros who greatly preferred remote access over having to come in to work in the middle of the night to solve an internal issue localized in the office network.
Upgrades from Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate
Upgrade versions of Windows are cheaper than buying the full retail package. If you’re currently running Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate, you will need to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro as Windows 8 can only be upgraded from a home or basic version of Windows 7.
Unless you are set on upgrading from Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate, the benefits of going for Windows 8 Pro are largely targeted to the IT and business world. Being able to host a remote desktop session or encrypt your entire drive isn’t exactly an exclusive benefit.
Much of BitLocker and EFS’s capabilities can be replicated using TrueCrypt, and there are a number of different third-party solutions available for users that may be much more cost-efficient than opting for a Pro license of the OS.