Windows to Go is a "live USB" portable Windows environment that is excellent for troubleshooting, giving presentations or running a secure desktop environment. Here’s how to use it.
Credit: ShutterstockMicrosoft gave us Windows to Go in Windows 8.1 Enterprise, and many administrators can't imagine performing their work without it. It's a (nearly) full Windows Client installation, along with all your favorite diagnostic, troubleshooting and security tools, that you can pop into just about any host PC and efficiently do you job.
Another popular use of Windows to Go in business is in support of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Rather than purchase full notebook or desktop computers for employees, those employees can instead be equipped with Windows to GO USB thumb drives, allowing them to take their secure work environment literally, wherever they are.
Before we get into the step-by-step, there are two important "gotchas" that you need to be aware of:
- Windows to Go is supported only in Windows 10 Enterprise Edition and Education Edition
- You need a certified USB thumb drive to use Windows to Go
Sure, you can run some Internet searches and pick up hacks for forcing Windows to Go on non-certified drives. However, I don't recommend that hassle. Storage is inexpensive enough nowadays that even Windows to Go-certified drives shouldn't run you too much money.
Following are a few Windows to Go-certified USB drives I've had success with in the past:
- Imation IronKey Workspace ($418.23)
- Kingston DataTraveler Workspace ($161.89)
- SPYRUS Windows to Go USB 3.0 ($347.13)
- Super Talent USB 3.0 RC4 Windows To Go Drive ($364.03)
- Western Digital My Passport Enterprise with Windows to Go ($80)
Create the Windows to Go Workspace
You'll need a Windows 10 Enterprise or Education edition physical DVD or ISO image file in order to create your Windows to Go Workspace. On your Windows 10 computer, open the Start menu, type Windows to Go, and press ENTER to start the Windows to Go Control Panel item.
An error message appears if you don't have a Windows-to-Go-certified USB drive mounted.You won't be able to create a Windows to Go workspace without a validated USB drive. I proceeded when I mounted my 32GB Kingston DataTraveler drive in my Windows 10 Enterprise Edition laptop. You should choose a qualified USB drive with a capacity of at least 32GB.
Your Windows 10 operating system image could be a physical DVD or an ISO disk image file. Use the Add search location button to browse to the image.
We're almost ready to build our Windows to Go workspace.The next step is not optional, in my opinion. Imagine if you dropped your Windows to Go USB thumb drive in an elevator, on the subway, on a bus — how would you, your bosses, your colleagues, your customers, etc., feel about the loss. Do you have anything valuable on the USB stick? Uh...YEAH!
Therefore, you need to enable BitLocker Drive Encryption on your workspace and set a long passcode to protect the drive.
Adding BitLocker Drive Encryption to your workspace should be a no-brainer.In the final step, Windows 10 actually transfers the Windows 10 image to the USB drive. It's worth mentioning that this process reformats the USB drive, so make sure you've performed any necessary data backups before clicking Create.
Creating a Windows to Go workspace reformats your USB drive.It's testing time. Windows to Go doesn't show up in File Explorer on the host computer. Likewise, the host computer's internal drives are inaccessible to the Windows to Go workspace.
Boot into the Windows to Go Environment
You can use your Windows to Go environment with (just about) any computer that is certified for Windows 7, Window 8.1 or Windows 10. As Microsoft explains, some Windows features are unavailable in a W2G workspace:
- Hibernate is disabled by default
- PC Reset and Refresh are not supported
- Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security is unavailable
On a Windows 10 computer, open Start again, type windows to go startup, and press Enter to launch the Windows to Go Startup Options dialog box.
Windows 10 host computers make it simple to restart into a Windows to Go workspace.Choose Yes, press Save changes and restart your system. You'll find the speed at which Windows to Go initializes is dependent on the host computer's USB bus (both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 are supported), and the host's memory and CPU hardware.
The first time you launch W2G on a host you'll be asked a few questions to get networking squared away, create your administrator user account, and so forth. After that, you'll find that interacting within the workspace functions almost identically to working on a physical computer. You can view my Windows to Go workspace; notice that the only internal hard drive that's visible is the USB drive itself.
The W2G workspace is functionally identical to a standard Windows environment.You can manage Windows to Go workspaces in the enterprise by using the same tools (typically Group Policy, Windows Desired State Configuration, and System Center Configuration Manager) that you do with your ordinary server and client hosts.
As a trainer, I give presentations on a regular basis. As such, it brings me great satisfaction and comfort that I can show up at a venue with my full presenting environment, with Hyper-V and everything, all on a small USB thumb drive. No more reliance on subpar "house" systems.
As long as you have BitLocker Drive Encryption enabled, then I see Windows to Go as a viable BYOD solution for some businesses as well.