Answering Your Top Questions: Windows To Go

Over the past few months, we have discussed Windows To Go features, its ability to help mobile workers be more productive, and the importance of certified drives to overall functionality. As I talk with companies, both large and small, who are evaluating Windows To Go in their own ecosystems, I’ve heard common questions regarding compatibility, support and usage scenarios of the product. As more customers consider Windows To Go, I thought it would be a great time to address some of these common questions, and provide a few Tips ‘n Tricks to help in evaluating Windows To Go for your organizations.

Q: What machine types, or PCs, are supported for use with Windows To Go?

In general, Windows To Go is supported on hardware that has been certified for use with either Windows 7 or Windows 8 operating systems, regardless of the OS currently running on the hardware. If you have purchased a computer certified for Windows 7 or Windows 8 and then installed an older operating system, Windows To Go will boot and run as expected, as long as you have configured the firmware to boot from USB. However, older computers might not meet the hardware requirements for Windows To Go to run. Computers certified for Windows Vista and earlier operating systems may have less memory, less processing power, reduced video rendering, and slower USB ports.

Q: Does Windows To Go rely on virtualization technologies?

Windows To Go is a native instance of Windows 8 that runs from a certified USB drive. No virtualization technologies are required to boot. Think about Windows To Go as a laptop hard drive with Windows 8 that has been put onto a USB enclosure for use on the go.

Q: Windows To Go certified drives are USB 3.0, does that mean that Windows To Go is only supported on USB 3.0 ports on my PC?

No; not at all. Windows To Go is fully supported on either USB 2.0 ports or USB 3.0 ports on PCs certified for Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Q: Do you have any best practice recommendations for people new to Windows To Go?

Absolutely; from my own personal experience, make sure you integrate these simple steps for optimal Windows To Go performance and experience:

  • Before removing the Windows To Go drive from your device, always make sure the Windows 8 operating system running from your Windows To Go drive, is completely shut down.
  • Never insert the Windows To Go drive into a running computer; Windows To Go requires booting from a powered down machine.
  • Don’t boot the Windows To Go drive directly from a USB hub. Always insert the Windows To Go drive directly into a port on the computer, as a hub may slow or interrupt the boot process.
  • Suspend BitLocker on Windows 7 host computers before changing the BIOS settings to boot from USB and then resume BitLocker protection to avoid having to enter your BitLocker recovery key.

Q: What happens if I, or someone else, remove my Windows To Go drive while it is running?

The best way to answer this question is through my story that tells the tale of a great Windows To Go feature called a “resiliency to unintended removal.” As a test user of new drives, I frequently use them when I work from home and during the evenings. One night, my three boys noticed a drive sticking out of my PC and ingeniously, through a series of well thought out distractions and sneaky maneuvers, my 12 year old snagged the Windows To Go drive directly from my PC as I was in mid-project. Lucky for me, the resiliency and unintended removal feature of Windows To Go automatically froze my computer screen upon removal of the drive, giving me 60 seconds to re-insert. If the Windows To Go drive is reinserted into the same port it was removed from, Windows will resume at the point where the drive was removed – without the loss of in process work or data. If the USB drive is not reinserted, or is reinserted into a different port, the host computer will turn off after 60 seconds.

Q: I’m booted into Windows To Go and I cannot browse the internal hard drive of the host computer. Why is this?

This restriction is due to the policies set by the Windows To Go Creator and the recommended deployment steps for Windows To Go setting SAN Policy 4 on Windows To Go drives. This policy prevents Windows from automatically mounting internal disk drives. That’s why you can’t see the internal hard drives of the host computer when you are booted into Windows To Go. This is done to prevent accidental data leakage between Windows To Go and the host system. This policy also prevents potential corruption on the host drives or data loss if the host operating system is in a hibernation state.

Q: Does Windows To Go work with Windows RT?

No, Windows To Go is currently only supported on PCs with x86 or x64-based processors, therefore, it is not compatible with ARM-based Windows RT.

Q: Can I access all Windows 8 features when utilizing Windows To Go?

Yes, with some minor exceptions. The only currently unsupported features are the use of Windows Recovery Environment, and PC Reset & Refresh. Further, access to the Windows Store is disabled by default, to help prevent inadvertent licensing issues when using applications purchased through the Windows Store. (For more information, see Support for the Windows Store.) However, organizations wishing to access Windows Store via Windows To Go, may enable as appropriate.

Q: Can I use all of my Windows applications via Windows To Go?

Yes you may. Since Windows To Go is a full Windows 8 environment, all of your applications that work with Windows 8, both current Windows 7 desktop and LOB applications as well as new Windows 8 apps, should work with Windows To Go. However, any applications that use hardware binding (usually for licensing and/or digital rights management reasons) will not run when you roam your Windows To Go. In this scenario, you will have to use those on the same host computer every time.

Q: If I lose my Windows To Go drive, will my data be safe?

If you enable BitLocker on your Windows To Go drive, all of your data will be encrypted and protected, and a malicious user will not be able to access your data without your password. If you don’t enable BitLocker, your data may be vulnerable if you lose your Windows To Go drive.

Q: How do I license Windows To Go, and can I use it on my personal PC?

Windows To Go licensing is relatively straight-forward.  Employees can use Windows To Go on any PC (personal or corporate owned) licensed with Software Assurance or Windows VDA.  Additionally, employees who are the primary user of the SA or VDA licensed device may also run Windows To Go from their personal PC while outside the office with no additional license.  These employees can also use Windows To Go on their personal PC at work when covered by a Windows Companion Subscription License (CSL) for Software Assurance.

Q: What are the most common scenarios you see Enterprises deploying Windows To Go?

The most popular cases for Windows To Go deployment tend to be:

  • Bring Your Own Device: Here, IT may simply provision a Windows To Go stick to permit access to the enterprise network on a personal device, so employees are able to stay productive whatever their choice of PC. It eliminates the concern of extended manageability and security of third party devices.
  • Supporting Contract or Temporary Workers: This scenario removes the need for IT to provision a new PC for the contractor, yet still allows the temporary employee to access corporate data via their own device.
  • Helping Employees test, trial or evaluate Windows 8: It’s as simple as it sounds. By provisioning a Windows To Go stick, users may familiarize themselves with the Windows 8 UI even before it is formally installed on their device.

Of course, Windows To Go is an ideal fit for many enterprise scenarios, feel free to check out more opportunities here.

While the above is just a sampling of the types of things I hear day in and day out from customers, we have an abundance of additional information on the Windows 8 Enterprise and Windows To Go website. For further deployment guidance, tips for booting Windows To Go, hardware considerations, best practices, or technical information on Windows To Go, check out the TechNet library resources.

If you are interested in evaluating Windows To Go, you simply need to buy a certified drive and download the Windows 8 Enterprise evaluation edition which provides up to a 90-day evaluation of Windows 8 Enterprise. Utilizing the Windows To Go Creator tool, available in the evaluation edition, you can create and test Windows To Go. (Note that Microsoft Partner Network, MSDN Subscription, TechNet Professional Subscription and Microsoft Volume Licensing/Software Assurance members may already have access to Windows 8, and do not need to download the 90-day evaluation.)

And…keep your questions coming!