Windows 8: How to Set Up Windows To Go

The phenomenon of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), which typically refers to employees using personal smartphones to access business email and other corporate data, is a trend small businesses must increasingly contend with these days.  

But BYOD can present a challenge beyond just smartphones. It can also come into play if a small business workforce includes telecommuters, contractors or temporary workers, because rather than outfitting remote or transient workers with company-owned PCs, many organizations opt to allow such workers to bring personal computers into the company’s IT environment in order to do their jobs. Whether it involves using foreign computers on-site or connecting remotely from afar, the practice can result in significant IT support costs and also pose serious security risks to the organization.

Windows 8 offers a potential solution to this aspect of the BYOD dilemma with its Windows To Go feature. In a nutshell, Windows To Go affords businesses the capability to create customized and self-contained copies of Windows 8 on bootable USB storage devices, in turn giving workers a secure and portable corporate Windows “workspace” that they can run on their own computers.

Windows To Go Hardware and Software Prerequisites

As is so often the case with anything from Microsoft, Windows To Go comes with its share of prerequisites and caveats, so here are the basics you need to know if you want to put Windows To Go into practice.

Windows 8 Enterprise

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t include Windows To Go with Windows 8 Pro, the mainstream business version of the operating system. It only comes with Windows 8 Enterprise, which you can’t buy in a box or obtain pre-installed on a PC.

To get Windows 8 Enterprise, you can either sign up for Microsoft’s Software Assurance volume licensing program (pricing varies — minimum of five PCs required), or its cloud-based Windows Intune PC management and security service ($11 per PC, per month), which automatically includes upgrade rights to Windows 8 Enterprise for any PC already running a Professional or Business version of Windows 7/Vista/XP. To take Windows 8 Enterprise for a spin gratis, you can download a 90-day evaluation version.   

A “Certified” USB 3.0 flash drive

Microsoft only supports Windows To Go when used with USB 3.0 flash drives that have been “certified” for use with Windows to Go. As of this writing, only one line of certified SuperTalent USB drives is available for purchase, but as the official October 26th 2012 launch date of Windows 8 approaches, you can expect the selection of certified drives to expand with offerings from Kingston and probably other vendors as well.

Windows To Go; Windows 8

Figure 1: “Certified” USB 3.0 drives are recommended (and the only ones officially supported) for use with Windows To Go.

In the meantime some, but not all, non-certified USB 3.0 drives will also work with Windows To Go — more on this in a moment. To ensure enough space for Windows, applications and data, Microsoft recommends using at least a 32 GB USB drive.

A “host” system capable of booting from a USB port

Any computer on which you plan to use a Windows To Go device must be able to boot from a USB port. Just about any PC built in the past 5 years or so should be able to do this. (Windows To Go doesn’t work on Macs.) While USB 3.0 ports are not required on host systems, they’re preferred for performance reasons.

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