Microsoft on Wednesday announced that it will begin rolling out Windows 8.1 to the general public on Oct. 18.
Win 8.1 will be available as a free update for Windows 8 users through the Windows Store, and it will also be available at retail outlets and on new devices running the Windows OS.
Microsoft appears to be banking heavily on the back-to-school shopping season to push Windows 8.1.
Despite this, Windows 8 supports both consumer and business needs, and “the updates coming in Windows 8.1 will further serve the needs of business customers,” Microsoft told TechNewsWorld in an email from PR rep Diana Cansino.
Microsoft did respond to a lot of customer requests or needs, but “it is not exactly bowing to every wind,” commented Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. For example, “people would like to have the Start menu back but I see no indication that they’ll fold on this one,” he said.
What Microsoft’s Including in Win 8.1
All first-party apps, including Photos, Music, Video and Internet Explorer, will see improvements, Microsoft said. New first-party apps will also be added.
Bing Search is being updated, and Windows 8.1 will offer easier access to Microsoft’s SkyDrive service and improved syncing between devices.
Multitasking and multimonitor support will be improved.
Windows 8.1 will have more personalization options, with new options for tiles, sizes, backgrounds and color. Settings will roam from device to device.
Microsoft will likely continue tweaking Windows 8.1 but there won’t be any structural or user interface changes, Directions on Microsoft’s Miller told TechNewsWorld. “The kinds of things you can expect between August and October are in the areas of reliability, performance, and any kind of thing that shows up when you localize into other languages.”
Catering to BYOD
There is more appeal to businesses with Windows 8.1, with features such as Work Folders and Workplace Join, than with 8.0, Miller said.
Both of these cater to the Bring Your Own Device trend.
Workplace Join gives IT administrators fine-grained control over corporate resources. For example, they can grant some access to BYOD devices while enforcing some governance parameters on them.
Work Folders lets users sync data from their user folders in the corporate data center to their devices and vice versa. This syncing does not require domain joining or domain credentials, and can be performed with third-party folder replication apps. IT can enforce Dynamic Access Control policies on the Work Folder Sync Share.
Windows 8.1 also offers mobile device management, and supports wireless and NFC printing from devices.
Windows 8.1 will let corporations mark enterprise content as corporate, encrypt it, and wipe it when their relationship with a user ends.
It will include biometric capabilities that will let users authenticate their identity anywhere in Windows. It will also be optimized for fingerprint-based biometrics.
Device encryption will be enabled out of the box, and consumer devices are automatically encrypted and protected when using a Microsoft account.
Windows Defender and Internet Explorer 11 have been enhanced for security, and all versions of Windows 8.1 will include Assigned Access, which lets users create restricted access to Windows Store apps.
The Windows Store is enabled by default.
What Win 8.1 Improvements Might Mean
“Those enterprises that are embracing touch on PCs or want a tablet that is manageable like a PC will find Windows 8.1 a no-brainer upgrade from 8,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.
“However, very few enterprises have deployed Windows 8 widely, so it’s less of a migration issue and more of a new adoption situation,” Hilwa continued.
Whether Windows 8.1 will see a rapid pickup is in doubt, because “Microsoft is forcing people to dabble with the modern UI by making the Start menu a modern screen,” Hilwa suggested. “To users and OEMs, it is a head-scratcher as to why Microsoft would take a successful desktop user interface and remove a crucial element of familiarity and comfort like the original Start menu.”