Windows 8.1 Unveiled: What’s New for Business Users

Big Microsoft Windows update alert! Microsoft last week unveiled the first major update to Windows 8, dubbed Windows 8.1.

And from the looks of it, it seems like a major update!

Microsoft’s latest OS, Windows 8, was released in October last year, and received a very mixed reception, mostly because of the fact that Microsoft decided to give the OS a complete design and interface overhaul – the first of it’s kind since perhaps the early days of Windows.

The new Windows 8 UI was called ‘Metro’, and it was distinctive (and hence controversial) because of two main reasons: it shifted the emphasis away from the traditional desktop, and did away with the Start menu – both these things having been the hallmarks of the previous iterations of the OS. Instead, the Desktop and the Start menu were replaced by the tile-based Metro UI, which was similar to the UI design seen on Windows-powered phones and tablet PC’s.

As expected, for a large majority of users accustomed to the Desktop and the Start Menu, this was not a welcome change. Microsoft, it seems, has been listening, which is why Windows 8.1 will be a welcome change for many Windows users – it marks the return of the desktop as well as the Start button after their brief absence!

windows 8.1 blue start menu

Before we get to the changes in 8.1, it should be noted that the return of the Start button and the boot-straight-to-desktop ability will be a welcome change. IDC analyst Al Gillen said: “New features are useless if customers don’t want to use the product in the first place. [And] there’s a lot of business momentum continuing around Windows 7.”

8.1, which until recently was simply known as Windows Blue, also includes a number of fixes and changes, all of which means that this will be a major Windows update.

The great thing about business users is that Windows 8.1 seems to have loads of business-focused features aimed towards enterprise users. For instance it features is ‘tap to pair’ with printers using NFC, as well as improved security with a promise to deliver enterprise-grade security to the business and corporate users. In addition, there will be enhanced support for biometrics, data encryption, remote business data removal and more, making 8.1 an appealing prospect for a lot of enterprise users.

The full list of changes and additions as far as the networking facet of 8.1 goes, will include :

  • NFC tap-to-pair printing: Users can tap a Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and print. There’s no need to buy a special printer; users can attach a NFC tag to your existing machines.
  • Wi-Fi Direct printing: Users can connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers without adding additional drivers or software.
  • Native Miracast wireless display compatibility: No extra dongles needed; users can project content to a Miracast-enabled device by pairing the device through Bluetooth or NFC.
  • Broadband tethering: Users can tether Windows 8.1 mobile broadband-enabled PCs or tablets into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot.
  • Auto-triggered VPN: When apps or resources need access through an inbox VPN, Windows 8.1 will automatically prompt users to sign in with one click. This feature will work with Microsoft and third-party inbox VPN clients.

As far as security’s concerned, 8.1 will have:

  • More authentication options: Support for fingerprint-based biometric devices and virtual smart cards for multi-factor authentication.
  • Additional Defender and IE functionality: Network behavior monitoring added to Windows Defender, Microsoft’s built-in antivirus product. Internet Explorer 11 will scan binary extensions (e.g. ActiveX) using the anti-malware solution before potentially harmful code is executed.

And finally, in terms of management, new Blue features include:

  • Start Screen lock-down for company-issued devices: IT can control the layout of these machines’ Start Screens and prevent user customization across individual workgroups or the entire company.
  • Remote business data removal: Allows IT to wipe corporate data while leaving users’ personal data intact on user-purchased devices running Windows 8.1.
  • Open MDM support: New Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) capabilities are built into the OS and enable mobile device management using third-party MDM solutions, such as MobileIron or AirWatch, with no additional agent required.
  • Workplace Join: New feature ensuring that only registered and trusted devices are allowed to access secured enterprise data.
  • Assigned Access: The ability to lock down a machine so that users can use only a specific Windows Store application for a set period of time. A customer service application or a particular learning app for kids are the targets for this scenario.

As far as the aesthetics are concerned, Windows Blue will give users the the ability to choose from additional colors and backgrounds for the Start screen, most notable though is the fact that motion based backgrounds can now be used. You can now also have a slideshow running in the background of your lock screen, which means that unlike before, you’ll not just be limited to one photo.

Speaking of which, users of Blue will be able to answer Skype calls and take photos straight from the lock screen.

The Search option is also being given an overhaul, making it much more user-friendly.

windows 8.1 blue search

The Photos app has been improved with additional editing features. The Music app also received a facelift in order to allow users to better interact with their music collection. An all-new and updated Windows Store will now present users with a lot more information about apps than before.

Last but certainly not the least, Blue will come with an all-new Internet Explorer. It will have better touch performance and lighting fast page loading times. Usability has also been improved for non-touch devices.

Microsoft’s also said that it’s goal is to make it so that Windows 8.1 work better on both touch and non-touch devices.

In addition, any device running Windows 8 will able to run Windows 8.1 with no compatibility problems. Any app that works now on Windows 8 will continue to work on Windows 8.1 without any compatibility problems.

It is refreshing to see Microsoft taking user-feedback into account, and incorporating changes that people – Windows users – actually wanted to see in the OS. Blue will hence will be a big step forward for the Windows OS, and will have something for all kinds of users – corporate and home users –  to look forward to.

Windows 8.1 ‘Blue’ is scheduled to be released on June 26th, and will be a free upgrade for existing Windows 8 users. Mark your calendars!

(Source: ZDNet for the info in bullets)

(Images taken from: Windows Blog, where you can view a full-list of changes in greater detail as well)