An Introduction to Windows 8 To Go

Monday, June 18, 2012
I just returned from Microsoft TechEd North America in Orlando.  I spent most of my sessions following Windows Server 2012 and a few on Windows 8.  One of the coolest Windows 8 features to be covered was Windows 8 To Go.  In this article I'd like to cover some of the interesting aspects of Windows To Go.

Windows To Go allows enterprise administrators to provide a completely managed Windows 8 experience to their users along with all their business line apps from a USB drive.  This provides a truly portable full fidelity desktop experience for their users since they can boot to it and run it from multiple computers.

Administrators create Windows To Go images and configure the USB drives using standard ImageX tools.  Users simply plug the Windows To Go USB drive into a PC or laptop and boot to that drive.  This typically can be done by pressing an F1-12 key during boot.  Users can save their documents and settings to that Windows To Go drive and/or sync them using their Windows Sky Drive.

Windows To Go desktops are managed using general and Windows To Go specific Group Policy Objects.  These GPOs are applied directly to the image and over the Internet.  For example, GPOs can be configured to allow or disallow access to local resources, such as the local C: drive of the computer used for Windows To Go.  The default setting is to disallow access to local drives.

Windows To Go drives can be protected using BitLocker.  A pre-boot password must be entered on BitLocker protected drives since there is no TPM chip on the USB drive.  Manufacturers may provide built-in biometric scanning or keypads on WTG USB drives in the future.

If the WTG USB disk is removed from the computer, the USB stack detects it and freezes the desktop for up to 60 seconds.  If the USB stick is reinserted within that time, Windows will automatically resume.  If the drive is not reinserted the desktop will power down the system.  This prevents accidental disclosure of business information.

Here are some other facts and requirements of Windows To Go:
  • Only USB drives that are optimised for Windows To Go will work.
  • WTG drives are at least 32GB and high-speed USB 3.0.
  • Currently there are only two manufacturers with optimised WTG drives: Kingston and Super Talent.  More will follow.
  • Interestingly, USB 3.0 ports are not required for either the imaging computer or the host computer.  USB 2.0 is required.
  • First boot on a new computer will take a few more seconds as drivers are installed.  Subsequent boots from the same computer only take seconds.
  • Drivers that are not included in the WTG image will be downloaded from Windows Update.
  • Supported host computers that can run WTG are x64 computers with the Windows Vista or Windows 7 logo.
  • While not supported by Microsoft, it may be possible to boot Windows To Go from a Mac.  You may (probably will) run into driver issues.  If so, you're on your own.
  • Adding Direct Access to WTG images provides transparent access to the corporate network.
  • Hibernation is not possible in Windows To Go instances.
Windows To Go requires Windows 8 Enterprise with Software Assurance.  It is not available with any other SKU.  At the time of this writing, Windows 8 Release Preview is not Enterprise Edition, so Windows To Go is not available for testing (even if you could get a hold of an optimized for Windows To Go drive).

Your enterprise's Windows 8 Enterprise client access license (CAL) allows your users to run Windows To Go on any PC outside the corporate network (i.e., home, the library, mom's house, etc.).  Any user who runs WTG within the corporate network requires an additional Companion Device license, at extra cost.


  1. I was impressed with WTG. I think it has tremendous potential if implemented properly.

  2. It would be great to see a company like IronKey get into the game as they detect physical device tampering and destroy the data, which is a great control in addition to MFA and encryption.


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