Guest post from Daley Robinson, Stone Group.

With the imminent arrival of Windows 8 on 26th October 2012, there are undoubtedly a number of educational institutions anxious to understand what Microsoft’s next generation operating system offers. With a fresh, clean interface also comes significant new advantages and benefits. Windows 8 for education now offers students a completely new experience, providing intuitive access to digital content alongside a fully functioning suite of learning enhancing tools that allow for more productive teachers, more engaged students and enhanced interaction and collaboration.

So aside from the well publicised benefits for touch screen devices, what makes Windows 8 better than its predecessor? We’ve highlighted some of the benefits that the upcoming Operating System can bring you as a school or academy for any PC, whether it is touch-enabled or not. :

Enhanced Security to improve e-safety

Secure Boot is a feature enabled by UEFI, which replaces the traditional PC BIOS found in previous version of Windows. Within education particularly, security features are exceptionally important and the risk of losing data because of malicious viruses etc can prove to be catastrophic from an e-safety perspective. The enhanced security features of Windows 8 brought about by Secure Boot are designed to prevent such viruses and unsolicited programs initiating on your PCs before Windows and all of its built-in safeguards are launched.

Improved Start Up times to get pupils ‘on-task’ quicker

One major change to Windows 8 is the improved start up times and faster performance. This will allow students and staff alike to get on task and lessons far quicker than previously, reducing the amount of wasted valuable teaching time waiting for the system to load up.

There are various user reports online testing the performance of Windows 8, showing boot times of 12 seconds with a HDD, or 8 seconds from an SSD – a notable improvement on Windows 7.

Personalised Learning with User Roaming Profile

User Roaming Profile has been devised to address the challenges in today’s multi-user and multi-device environment. User Roaming Profile allows you to synchronise your pupil or teachers’ profiles, settings and apps so that regardless of where they are, they’ll still get the same end user experience. When the user logs in to another device with the same ID, the settings are downloaded from the cloud and synchronised with the local machine – this means that students can experience a single, unified personalised learning experience. All settings, wallpapers, apps and so on are available to any Windows 8 device offering the ultimate in flexibility.

Locked down off-site access to the school’s own image with Windows-to-Go

One of the most innovative features in Windows 8 is Windows-to-Go. A more admin-focused personalised learning tool, Windows-to-Go ultimately gives educational institutions the ability to provide the full experience of Windows 8 on a machine other than that within the school’s local area network (e.g. a home PC) by directly booting from a USB drive. Once the instance of Windows 8 is initiated, it functions and is maintained by the usual Microsoft system administrator tools such as System Centre Configuration Manager and Active Directory group policies.  Windows-to-Go can transfer any PC running Windows 7 or above to offer the same Windows 8 experience to a pupil as they are accustomed to whilst at school, giving them the benefits associated with a single unified interface and platform to enhance their learning potential.

With student files saved on Windows Live SkyDrive, Office365, or a third party cloud based VLE your school can enable true anytime, anywhere learning.

Windows Bitlocker – ensure you meet your data security obligations and avoid costly ICO files

Another major benefit of Windows 8 as Windows 8 Bitlocker now comes as standard on all Windows 8 Pro devices. For PCs that have TPM (Trusted Platform Module), of which most of our PCs come with TPM as standard, there is now an ‘out of the box’ software encryption solution to make data security a priority in all educational institutions. With the Information Commissioner’s Office having the power to hand out fines of up to £500,000 for data security breaches, with a recent UK public sector fine of £325,000 for one NHS trust, Windows BitLocker as standard in Windows 8 Pro offers schools a cost effective way to make sure their reputation or their finances aren’t significantly damaged.

This will mean you can send teachers home with their laptops safe in the knowledge than any rogue locally stored files won’t be to the detriment of your school’s data security policy.

Universal Sharing – maximising creative ICT opportunities across multiple applications

One of the more advanced features to Windows 8 is Universal Sharing. This allows the student to be working in Photoshop, for example, and drag images into a PowerPoint presentation, add some cool animation and drag it straight back to another application, such as the Virtual Learning Environment - where it can then be posted and submitted for assessment without the hassle of opening and closing multiple applications separately.

Windows 7 Compatibility – don’t lose the use of your existing software assets

Everything that runs on Windows 7 will also be capable of running on Windows 8 too meaning that you won’t need to upgrade your ICT suite just to accommodate Windows 8.

Whilst many may still be cautious about the upgrade to Windows 8, it is set to bring a no-compromise experience across all PC devices. It will give students the functionality and skills they need with enhanced learning tools and a solid, secure framework on which to move forward with your vision for ICT in the classroom.