Much of the attention being paid to this week's Windows 8 launch focuses on the new Metro-style interface and the fact that Microsoft is extending its desktop OS to tablets and smartphones. But for enterprises, the real story is the way Microsoft has integrated Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 and the Hyper-V hypervisor to create an unmatched system for running virtualised environments.
Combined, Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 represent the biggest changes we've seen from Microsoft in a decade, with the company training its guns on virtualised Linux vendors such as Red Hat, as well as hypervisor market leader VMware.
Both Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 sport the new Metro-style GUI, but we found that it's not as radical a change as has been reported. Indeed the bemoaned missing "Start" button and menus already have a dozen replacements being offered freely (or almost freely). If you know about Windows 7 or Windows Server, the menu makeovers are rapidly obvious, we found.
Although we have some minor reservations about Windows Server, both philosophically and in practice, we found the Windows Server/Windows 8 Enterprise combination to be far ahead of its peers for large enterprise deployments and management. And that's not even counting the additional management functionality available from Microsoft System Center 2012.
Inside the Windows Server 2012 platform is a shift towards the kind of programmability first envisioned by Bill Gates when he declared that Windows would run on BASIC as a programming environment. That was an allusion towards the Visual BASIC scripting that became popularised in inter-application/platform custom coding efforts.
These efforts allowed organisations to integrate custom code with Microsoft Office apps, and web development efforts then became centered around Microsoft SharePoint services. While these "departmental" and populist development efforts continue, Microsoft has now evolved its PowerShell "cmdlets" in a way that both mimics scripting and inter-platform communications, but in vastly more powerful ways.
The goal is to give the Windows platform as much potential for programmability and customization as Linux distributions.
Windows 8 Enterprise
Pre-release criticisms have focused around a number of changes that appear to alter the character of Windows-as-we-know-it. We don't think so. Windows 8 (see preview) has a new user-interface, but the changes are no more radical than those we've seen from Apple, Canonical, and others. Microsoft is trying to get unstuck from the success of Windows XP; and the new user interface - once apps are built - might just do it.
There are more differences than limitations, and there are just three different versions of Windows 8 to choose from, Home, Professional, and Enterprise. Each edition gradient has differing feature sets, and Enterprise is differentiated by its ability to be activated via Windows 2012 Key Management Services that can dole activation keys as needed.
Professional/Enterprise can be considered the analog to Windows 7 Ultimate; these replace up to nine different versions in Windows 7.
You get the Hyper-V hypervisor in Professional/Enterprise (we'll call it W8E) that's the same version shipped with Windows 2012 Server, and it replaces Windows Vista/Windows 7 Virtual PC to serve as a bare metal-type hypervisor.
Ostensibly, it's used to run a prior version that you upgraded from, like Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7. You can have your old apps in other ways, too. You can host Windows 8 instances as VMs on Windows 2012 Hyper-V, VMware, or other hypervisors, too.
Microsoft's application virtualiser, App-V, has been upgraded and now has a physical-to-virtual feature, although we didn't test it. App-V V5 allows, like prior versions, a Remote FX-based GUI connection to an application that's executing someplace else. It appears as though the application launching, manipulation, and execution are happening locally, but these are actually communication broker stubs that link to the application on a server somewhere else.