I have said before that I am not sure that Windows 8 is going to have the adoption rates that Windows 7 has had, and that it is more likely that Windows 7 will remain the dominant operating system in the enterprise. If companies are going to be convinced to switch, it will be by new features such as Windows To Go (WTG), which allows us to install Windows 8 on a USB key, configure that key with our applications and security requirements (including domain join, group policy, Direct Access, and more), and then boot from that USB key on any computer in the world.
So imagine you are visiting your in-laws in Podunk, and they have their trusty old Windows XP Home machine, and you can pop in your USB key, boot from it, do all of your work with all of your applications while connected to your corporate network, all the while without affecting their XP Home setup with their own games and stuff.
- You have to build this USB key from a system running Windows 8.
- You have to have a USB 3.0 port on that system (which is a requirement to build, but not to use Windows to Go).
- You have to have the source media for Windows 8, which can be either an ISO or a DVD (or any media with the original install.wim file on it.
- You have to have a USB stick that is compatible with Windows to Go. Sorry folks, just any USB key that you get from a trade show giveaway will not work. I use the Kingston DT Ultimate G2 16GB, which cost me a little under $70 on Amazon.com. I hope that Microsoft will make a comprehensive list available soon, but nothing so far.
Step by Step: Create your Windows to Go key!
- Open a command prompt with Administrative credentials. You are going to use the single most destructive tool within Windows, and you need to Run As Administrator to use it.
- Open the Disk Partition Tool (diskpart.exe).
- Type list disk (expert tip: you can save time by typing the first three letters of any command in diskpart, so lis dis would work just as well).
- Once you see the list of disks in your system, insert your new USB 3.0 key into an appropriate port. Wait a few seconds, then type lis dis again. Note the number of the new drive.
- Type select disk # . Make sure that # is the number of the new drive or bad things will happen!
- Type Clean. This command will destroy everything on the drive – files, partitions, all gone. See why I call it destructive? There is no Undo command.
- Type create partition primary (cre par pri). This creates a new partition on the key.
- Format the new partition by typing format fs=ntfs quick. It will only take a few seconds (hence the QUICK command switch).
- To make it a bootable disk type Active.
- Assign a drive letter to it by typing assign.
- Exit the Disk Partition Tool by typing exit.
- Mount the Windows 8 media (if you have an ISO) or insert the disk into the drive.
- At this point you have to check the drive letter for both the USB key and the Windows 8 media. These will be different for each machine, but for my example we will say that the USB key is F: and the Windows 8 media is G:.
- Now we have to apply the Windows 8 image to the key. Navigate to the Windows 8 media and type:
dism /apply-image /imagefile=g:\sources\install.wim /index:1 /applydir:f:\
You should receive output that looks like this:
The above line is your progress bar, and when it reaches 100% the image will be completed. You then have to type the following command to create the Boot Configuration Data file which allows your computer to select an operating system:
bcdboot.exe f:\Windows /s f: /f ALL
That should do it… try booting from the key (many systems need for you to press F9 or F12 to select the boot menu when turning on the system, and will not see the USB key unless it was booted plugged in. Select the key, and if it boots from the key then you are now the proud owner of a Windows to Go key!
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