As the Windows 8 launch nears, a small group of Universal Serial Bus memory manufacturers have readied "operating system on a stick" offerings that let mobile users take the office with them, including a complete copy of Windows 8. However, some IT pros have said the risks outweigh the rewards -- at least for now.
Called Windows To Go, Microsoft has certified a handful of solid-state drive makers to ship complete implementations of Windows 8 preinstalled on Universal Serial Bus (USB) memory sticks for users on the move.
"For people who are mobile employees, you could make a use case for it," said Charles King, principal analyst at corporate advisory firm Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif. Another use he envisions is being able to restore an employee's environment quickly in the event of a system crash. "It's disaster recovery in your pocket," he said.
The feature has its limitations, however. First, it will run only on Intel-based PCs, not ARM-based Windows RT machines, so users who hope to use a sleek new Windows Surface tablet with Windows To Go are out of luck, at least for the first release.
Also, Windows To Go doesn't currently support iPads or Android devices -- or any tablet that doesn't have a USB 3.0 connector. However, some observers expect those devices to be supported in the future.
A Microsoft spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment. Windows To Go lets a user carry a full image of Windows 8 on a USB flash drive that is pocketable, although some experts argue that its size poses a threat to the safety of users' data. They fear that something that's so small and carries so much data could be easily lost or stolen.
Microsoft has certified USB drives including Imation Corp.'s IronKey Workspace USB 3.0 memory sticks, Kingston Technology Co.'s DataTraveler Ultimate, Super Talent Technology Corp.'s Express RC8, and Western Digital Corp.'s My Passport Enterprise as Windows To Go offerings. Imation said it will deliver its first Windows To Go memory products by year's end. Next year, Imation plans to roll out a line of security-enhanced products equipped with hardware-encrypted flash drives, authentication features and centralized device management.
Meanwhile, security issues can be mitigated because information can be encrypted on a memory stick and other security measures can be taken as well, said Peter Renner, Microsoft professional services director at En Pointe Technologies Inc., an IT services provider in Los Angeles.
For instance, IT can set up USB sticks to check in with their security credentials when they're plugged into a PC with network access, and can be set up to "blow up" -- disabling the stick -- if that isn't done in a timely manner.
En Pointe, in fact, already has two clients who have expressed interest in deploying Windows To Go.
"We have customers that have branch offices where people travel a lot, or have PCs on oil rigs, or temporary workers [who don't need a computer constantly]," Renner said. "You can plug a memory stick in and not risk your data -- that's pretty cool."