Just over a year ago, Microsoft launched Windows 8, a major overhaul of the company's PC operating system designed to bring it into the age of tablets. However, the change caught many organizations off guard. Although much of the familiar Windows was still in the new version, it was hidden beneath an interface that required user re-education. For some, Windows 8 was deemed "too different" to adopt; many agencies migrating from Windows XP chose Windows 7 as their target platform.
Last October, Microsoft released the first set of fixes to Windows 8 — not as a service pack, but as Windows 8.1. Now, it would appear, there's little reason not to consider Windows 8.1 for PC upgrades.
Windows 8.1, like its predecessor, is built for touch applications. But it still supports traditional Windows applications, which run in a desktop environment, characterized by the familiar Start button. Windows 8.1 can now be configured to load in desktop mode automatically, solving a major usability and training concern for agencies tied to applications that don't require a touch interface.
But Windows 8.1 is about more than the Start button and desktop mode. For example, it offers better support for embedded and tethered mobile wireless devices, and it can now be used to create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for broadband connectivity.
There are a number of improvements to Windows 8.1 aimed at enterprises. One feature, called Work Folders, supports bring-your-own-device policies. The Work Folders feature is part of a new capability in Windows 8.1 called Workplace Join, which lets administrators give visitors access to a limited set of network resources. In Windows 8, computers had to be joined to the enterprise Windows domain to access file and print resources. In Windows 8.1, users can register devices with the network without joining the domain, and administrators can grant specific devices appropriate access.
The original Windows 8 offered a new kind of remote access capability, called Direct Access, but support for some virtual private network standards fell short. Windows 8.1 includes a wider range of VPN support. More important, administrators can now enforce policies that automatically launch VPNs for specific applications.
10.7% Combined market share of Window 8 and 8.1 as of March 2014
The underlying changes to Windows 8.1, combined with the subtle changes Microsoft made to the user interface, make it a better candidate for organizations to adopt than its predecessor. And with Microsoft's new rapid-release approach to upgrading the OS, Windows 8.1 will only get better faster.