Windows 7 Ultimate edition contained all the features from every SKU of the OS, including the Enterprise edition. But there is no Windows 8 Ultimate, and some features, such as BranchCache and AppLocker, are only available if you obtain the Windows 8 Enterprise edition via a Windows Intune or Software Assurance (SA) subscription.
Windows 8 Pro contains all the features that Microsoft deems critical for standard business operations, like the ability to join an Active Directory domain, BitLocker, and Group Policy, but there are five features that are only found in the Enterprise edition of Windows 8:
While these features might be useful in certain scenarios (with the exception of Windows-To-Go and VDA access rights), they are not mandatory for providing end-user functionality. Windows-To-Go can be beneficial for BYOD, but it’s unlikely that many small businesses have the hardware or technical resources to take advantage of it. Much the same can be said for VDA licensing rights, as SMEs rarely have the resources to invest in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).
DirectAccess requires some infrastructure investment, such as Windows Server 2008 (or later), and good technical skills to configure and troubleshoot, and as such may be out-of-reach for many small companies. Finally, AppLocker isn’t the most flexible whitelisting solution, and it requires a helpdesk to be on hand and the right skills to support desktops secured with whitelisting configured.
If you develop in-house Modern UI apps for Windows 8, Enterprise edition lets you preload apps – otherwise known as sideloading – using Group Policy so that they don’t need to be made publicly available in the Windows Store for download. Windows 8 RT and Pro editions need a sideloading product key to enable this functionality. Windows 8 Pro must additionally be covered by one of the following licenses:
Other restrictions may apply, so you should check with a Microsoft partner that your license agreement allows you to purchase sideloading keys for Windows 8 Pro edition.
For most small businesses, the extra features in Windows 8 Enterprise edition will be a luxury, but they can usually be sacrificed. Only when a company begins to grow, has more than one office, or needs to invest in a more efficient management infrastructure do the features in Windows 8 Enterprise edition start to make more sense.
That said, if your company has a Windows Intune subscription, Windows 8 Enterprise rights let you take advantage of technology that you would not otherwise have access to. Adding a BranchCache server in a remote office can potentially allow you to limit the bandwidth on WAN links. For more progressive SMEs, VDI and Windows-To-Go can help kick start a BYOD scheme.