Differences Between Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise Editions

In this Ask the Admin, I’ll explain the differences between Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise Editions.

When Windows 8 was released in 2012, Microsoft reduced the number of available editions for its client OS to just three. One of the many criticisms of Vista and Windows 7 was the confusing array of SKUs. The Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 are for business use, but sometimes the Pro edition is also supplied on consumer devices.

Windows 8 Pro

Windows 8 Pro can be bought off-the-shelf or supplied pre-installed on devices by OEMs. The primary difference between the standard edition of Windows 8 and Pro is the ability to join Active Directory (AD) domain and the services associated with it, such as Group Policy and full-drive encryption using BitLocker.

The full list of features included in Windows 8 Pro not found in the standard edition are:

  • Client Hyper-V
  • Encrypting File System (EFS)
  • Remote Desktop (host)
  • Boot from VHD
  • Active Directory domain join
  • Group Policy
  • BitLocker and BitLocker To Go

Windows 8 Enterprise

In addition to Active Directory and BitLocker features in the Windows 8 Pro, the Enterprise version brings technologies designed to simplify management and provide easier access to corporate resources for end users. Note that Windows Media Center is not available in Windows 8 Enterprise edition.

You can download a free evaluation of Windows 8 Enterprise from Microsoft. Enterprise edition can be licensed as part of a Volume Licensing Agreement with Software Assurance from Microsoft or obtained through Windows Intune subscriptions.


Utilizing an always-on IPsec VPN, DirectAccess allows users to securely access corporate resources when connected to the Internet, without needing to manually establish a VPN connection. Not only does this make connecting to the corporate network easier for users, but it also helps IT manage remote computers as they can be reached when the user is not logged on. It also has the ability to manage remote computers from behind NAT routers in hotels and other public hotspots. Finally, there’s no VPN client for IT to configure.


AppLocker, the replacement for Software Restriction Policies (SRP) that was first introduced in Windows XP, allows IT to create and maintain whitelists of approved applications, programs and scripts that users are permitted to run on their systems. Processes that are not defined in AppLocker whitelists are blocked.

AppLocker addresses many of the issues with SRPs and provides a more practical way for IT to implement application control, which is an important in the defense against malware.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Windows 8 Enterprise edition includes Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licensing rights so that users can access virtual desktops hosted in remote datacenters. VDI is licensed through Software Assurance (SA) and volume licensing agreements from Microsoft.


IT departments can deploy Windows 8 to removable USB drives using Windows-To-Go, allowing users to boot into a corporate image that runs separately from any other operating systems installed on a device. Windows-To-Go can be useful for Bring-Your-Own-Device schemes or for temporary contract workers. Windows 8 certified hardware is required.


Organizations with multiple sites can use BranchCache to reduce WAN bandwidth and data costs. BranchCache can be configured in remote locations to cache recently accessed documents pulled across the WAN, so that other users on the network don’t need to connect to a central file server to access the document as it becomes available locally.

Services for Network File System (NFS)

In mixed UNIX/Windows environments, the NFS client in Windows 8 Enterprise edition allows users to connect directly to file shares hosted on UNIX servers, using either the familiar \servershare format or the server:/export format native to UNIX.