Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes new features for enterprise IT

The Microsoft Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes a client hypervisor, automatic backup and improvements to BranchCache. Here's a rundown of these and other important features.

While the Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes plenty of new features for consumers -- including the Metro touch- and gesture-based interface and an app store -- Microsoft also incorporated a bevy of enterprise features for IT pros.

Microsoft released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview during the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona on Wednesday and demonstrated some upcoming capabilities. It has not set a release date for Windows 8, but analysts said they expect that it will be ready by the end of 2012.

Here's a rundown of the features we know of so far, which could change between the Windows 8 Consumer Preview release and the final release. Some are new and some are simply upgraded versions of existing tools:

BranchCache

BranchCache was first available with Windows 7, but Microsoft claims that feature updates in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview make it easier to deploy, more scalable and provides less latency. BranchCache makes corporate files, websites and other data delivered centrally from the data center available locally to remote machines through caching.

Hyper-V and remote desktop integration

As reported by SearchVirtualDesktop.com last September, a Hyper-V client is natively integrated into Windows 8. This lets developers update to Windows 8 and run old versions of Internet Explorer (IE) to run legacy applications. The Hyper-V client will likely run a stripped-down version of Windows 8 -- often called "MinWin." Developers can use a single PC to develop, debug and test various configurations for apps and operating systems.

The OS running on Hyper-V must also be licensed -- so a Hyper-V client running MinWin also means additional OS license revenue for Microsoft.

Microsoft has also updated the virtual hard disk format from VHD to VHDX.

DirectAccess will also work with Windows 8. This feature allows remote users to access resources inside a corporate network without having to launch a separate connection to the network, such as a virtual private network (VPN).

IT admins will be able to remotely manage Windows 8 clients through Active Directory Domain Services and Windows Server 8.

Enhanced security

SmartScreen, the intelligent file filter in IE8 and IE9, will be baked into the Windows 8 file system, protecting users from launching potentially dangerous files or from downloading malicious apps from untrusted third-party applications found outside the Windows application store.

Another feature mentioned with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is Secure Boot, which protects the OS by loading anti-malware detection before noncritical Windows components. This will maintain a safe and secure boot process right from the start and prevent rootkits and other malware from causing damage.

One of the surprising things about Windows on ARM is that devices won't be able to connect to corporate domains. Businesses will have to use ARM tablets in an unmanaged environment. Microsoft BitLocker, a data-encryption feature first introduced with Windows Vista, will work with Windows 8 to give IT a way to lock down corporate data on unmanaged mobile devices.

IT pros can also use AppLocker with Windows 8 desktops -- a policy-control mechanism governing which apps can be run by users or groups. AppLocker's granular control allows admins to select which employees have access to specific applications and sensitive data.

History Vault

Microsoft's History Vault feature is similar to Apple's Time Machine.

Apple introduced Time Machine in 2007 to enable its OS to automatically make copies of important data files at regular intervals and make them available for easy restoration. History Vault in Windows 8 lets users back up to external drives or to inexpensive network-attached storage (NAS) drives.

Windows To Go

Windows To Go, which is not part of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, will allow IT administrators to provide employees with a full corporate copy of Windows, featuring their business apps, data and personal settings, on USB storage devices.

The Windows To Go USB stick can be plugged into any PC to run Windows 7 or Windows 8 as a virtual desktop.

Let us know what you think about this story; email James Furbush or follow @slyoyster on Twitter.

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