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Which Windows 8 version is right for your small business?

Brad Chacos and Chris Hoffman | Feb. 4, 2013
Microsoft released no fewer than four separate versions of Windows 8 into the wild. Which is right for your SMB? We explain the pros, cons, and key features of each.

Domains and group policy. Does your business use a centrally administered network with a Windows Server domain and group policy? These features allow an organization to centrally manage a network, including user profiles and computer settings, from a single server. Many businesses rely on domains and group policies, and only computers running Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise can use them.

BitLocker and EFS. BitLocker makes a return in Windows 8. It's a full-disk encryption solution that can encrypt entire hard drives, including your Windows system drive or even USB drives (with BitLocker To Go). Once you've encrypted a drive with BitLocker, anyone who powers on the computer or connects the USB drive will need to enter the encryption key, or the drive will remain locked and inaccessible--a useful feature if you're dealing with sensitive customer information. Windows 8 Pro also packs support for Microsoft's encrypted file system (EFS) technology. Businesses that need Windows 8 Pro only for its encryption features can try using TrueCrypt, instead. It's a free, open-source encryption solution that works with all desktop versions of Windows.

Hyper-V. Hyper-V is an integrated virtualization solution that has made its way from Windows Server to Windows 8, although it's missing some of the Server edition's more exotic options. Basically, it's useful for running multiple virtualized servers on a single Windows system or for installing other guest operating systems within Windows 8 for software testing. If you're not sure whether you need Hyper-V, you probably don't.

Even if you need virtualization support, however, you don't necessarily need Hyper-V and Windows 8 Pro. VirtualBox, a free piece of virtual machine software, works on any Windows system. (You can also use VirtualBox to try Windows 8 for free.) VMware Workstation is another popular workplace virtualization product, although it isn't free.

Remote Desktop hosting. While any Windows 8 PC can use Microsoft's Remote Desktop app to connect to a host computer, only Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise installations can be configured as a host PC and accessed from afar.

Windows 8 Enterprise

Most small or medium-size businesses won't need the advanced features found in Windows 8 Enterprise, which sports super-specialized tools that are more useful in large enterprise environments--hence the name. In fact, while Microsoft is happy to sell anyone copies of Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, you'll need to have at least five PCs in your business and you'll need to participate in Microsoft's Volume Licensing program to receive access to Windows 8 Enterprise.

We've covered the biggest benefits of Windows 8 Enterprise in a separate post. One of the brightest highlights is Windows To Go, which allows employees to boot into a full, manageable, and BitLocker-encryptable version of Windows 8 Enterprise off of a USB thumb drive. It's a great solution to the conundrums posed by the BYOD trend, but most small businesses can likely get by without it.


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