updated 02:02 am EDT, Tue July 10, 2012
Universal boot drive generated by Windows 8 Professional
The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto demonstrated a Windows 8 feature first announced in September 2011 -- "Windows to Go". Using a computer with Windows 8 Professional installed to the hard drive, users can generate a (32GB minimum) bootable universal Windows 8 USB flash drive, and migrate selected applications for use on any Windows 8 capable machine, without permanent modification to the booted machine.
"Windows to Go" was first discovered by users in Windows 8 build 7850 in April 2011. The official release of the feature was made during the Build Conference last fall. A "Windows to Go" install works under both USB 2.0 and 3.0 interfaces, and with both legacy BIOS and UEFI firmwares.
Electronista spoke to a Microsoft employee and was told that each Windows deployment would only be capable of a limited number of Windows to Go installs, depending on the specific version of Windows purchased. Furthermore, a USB stick install requires a persistent Internet connection for license verification purposes, and will download most drivers for a specific computer on an as-needed basis, if a generic hardware driver isn't available with the basic install.
Should the Windows USB stick be removed by accident or design while the OS is running, the OS is paused for 30 seconds, allowing the user to re-insert the USB stick and continue to work. Should the stick not be reinstalled before the 30 seconds elapses, or if the computer is shut down by user command, the computer's RAM is purged -- leaving no trace of the previously-running operating system.
Microsoft envisions "Windows to Go" working well in the "bring your own computer" model of information technology, in conjunction with server-based software license authentication and storage; for a student with inconsistent computer access; or for corporate recovery scenarios where key personnel need to get back up and running after some form of natural disaster or IT crisis.