Microsoft's Windows 8.1: What's new for business users

Microsoft's Windows 8.1: What's new for business users

Summary: Microsoft is adding incremental management, networking and security features to the Windows 8.1 'Blue' update, hoping to convince more business users to take a look at its latest OS release.


Microsoft has confirmed what many business users had hoped were accurate rumors — that a Start Button and boot-straight-to-desktop option are going to be baked into Windows 8.1, the client release of Windows codenamed "Blue."


But that's not all the company is doing to try to win more business customers over to Windows Blue. On June 3, the opening day of its TechEd North America conference, Microsoft officials also showed off other management, networking and security features that will be part of the Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 releases.

Microsoft introduced a handful of business-focused features when it rolled out Windows 8 in October 2012. Among those were things like Windows To Go, BitLocker drive encryption, and DirectAccess networking support. But those weren't enough to sway many business users who were either still clinging to (or stuck with) Windows XP or already in the midst of Windows 7 deployments.

The new Windows 8.1 business features are no guaranteed magnet for business users, either, IDC analyst Al Gillen noted.

"New features are useless if customers don't want to use the product in the first place," Gillen said. There's no one killer feature Microsoft could or should add to Windows 8.1 to convince business users to jump to it, he said, as there's a lot of business momentum continuing around Windows 7.

Microsoft business users which are adding a lot of tablets to their IT mix may be more inclined to look at Windows 8 and its successors, Gillen noted, given that the latest Windows release continues to be optimized for tablets and touch.

That said, Microsoft isn't simply resting on its Windows 7 business laurels, especially because more and more of the workforce is doing at least some work from outside the office. Microsoft's goal is to make it so that Windows 8.1 will work better on both touch and non-touch devices, said Erwin Visser, General Manager, Windows Commercial

Microsoft is promising that 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," Visser said.

Microsoft isn't going so far as with Windows 8.1 as adding domain-join support for Windows RT 8.1 devices, Visser acknowledged. It is, however, adding some other incremental functionality to the product to make it more appealing to business users.

On the networking front, new Blue features 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.

In the security area, Blue will add:

  • 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.

In terms of management, new Blue featues 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.

Most, if not all, of these new features will be included in the Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 public previews which Microsoft is releasing on June 26. The final versions of Windows 8.1 are expected to be released to manufacturing later this summer, according to sources. Microsoft officials have said publicly that Windows 8.1 will be available before the end of 2013.

Topics: Mobility, Data Management, Networking, Security, Tablets, PCs, Windows 8


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Not bad for an update

    That's a very good start
    • It's actually more like a Service Pack.

      I love Service Packs.
      • Not a SP

        This an OS upgrade for sure. This is not a collection of patches and fixes. There is a litany of core changes to the way it operates, the way it looks, new levels of security, MANY new features especially on the enterprise side, and even a new IE.
        • Master Joe Says...Exception, Not the Rule

          Only one Service Pack has ever had major feature changes (that I can recall, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), and that's Windows XP SP2. This even shadows that in terms of new features and functionality. Then again, people had stupid names for Windows 7, like "Fixta," which, by the way, if you ever want to drop your credibility rating amongst all circles of intelligence, come up with a stupid name for something, like Windoze, Wintard, Lintard, crApple, etc., and be sure to repeatedly say it in every post you make. In any case, from a UI perspective, 7 was different than Vista in some ways, but stayed the same in others. This is more on par with that than a service pack. Personally, I couldn't care less about the Start button. I'm looking forward to the update for a variety of reasons. That one just isn't on the list. Some people act like losing your Start button and menu should cause you to spiral into depression and require therapy.

          --Master Joe
    • With all the hype about Win8 Pro vs RT

      I bought an x86 tablet only to find out I was ripped by HP and received Windows 8 NOT Windows 8 PRO. No drive encryption so expandable uSD cards are vulnerable. Bait and switch I say from both HP and MS!!
      • How is that an MS bait and switch?

        It sounds to me like you bought it from HP not Microsoft? Unless if course you bought it through the Microsoft store?
        Sam Wagner
        • agreed

          How is this bait-n-switch? Were you promised one thing and sold another? You had the right to return the product when you realized you made a mistake.
      • Master Joe says...Show Us

        Show us a link to the product you bought and where on the page it says Windows 8 Pro, and I'll acknowledge that HP gave you something different, in which case you should be complaining to them and possibly taking legal action should they not honor the product as being misrepresented. But, even then, this has nothing to do with Microsoft, nor the differences between Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro. People complained about the four or five versions of Vista and 7. Now, we're down to 2 versions, and people are still confused? Weep for humanity, ladies and gentlemen.

        --Master Joe
      • So if you buy a Camaro on craigslist

        and it turns out it's got a V6, not a V8, that's GM's fault somehow?
        William Farrel
      • You should look before you buy

        The info I read said it came with Windows 8 Pro and that HP were thinking about an Arm Tablet and putting Windows 8 RT on that.
        I'd check your version first and then contact them if your right.
  • Let's be clear

    Business users want a Start "MENU", not the silly little picture image on a taskbar that simply takes you the Metro interface when you click it that Microsoft is touting as a Start "button". Like it or not, for better or worse, and whether right or wrong, they want the fully functional Windows 7 Start Menu on the Desktop Interface.
    • You need it

      I don't need the old and painful Start menu.
      • It isn't about you

        and it isn't about him either.

        It is about support and retraining costs. Businesses are conservative and will wait for users to take the training hit in their own lives. They will not want to lose productivity or pay for user education for anything other than their own in-house apps. When (and if) Windows 8 is broadly adopted as a consumer standard, look to business to follow. And no sooner.
        • It's not that hard....

          It's so easy to put all of your folders, web links, whatever on the win8 desktop.
          If you want to go to program, just start typing it, you don't need to be in a search box and bam, it's there. It's not rocket science.
          And all these years we've been told that people could learn to use Linux. Apparently not if they can't even manage a system that is one BIG start button full of stuff.
        • Master Joe says...Wait

          So, it's about support and training costs? Alright, then explain this to me. How do any of the arguments that companies should switch to Linux instead make ANY sense? Basically, you're suggesting that the organizations don't want to train the users (and I agree with you). The users, for their part, should be responsible for learning how to use a computer, if their job requires it, just as they should be required to understand how to use any tool that their job requires (be it surgical tools, a copy machine, a coffee machine, etc.). Microsoft took away an outdated, limited in functionality Start menu and replaced it with a very functional, organized (if you put stuff where you want it), Start screen? No. Please. Anything but that. What ever happened to the good old days of WordPerfect 5.1? Can't we just stop moving forward entirely and not have anymore innovation, change, anything? iOS and Android were brand new smartphone operating systems, with no previous version. Yet, hundreds of millions of people went out, bought them, learned how to use them for what they wanted to use them for, and here we are.

          The Desktop interface was kept to allow native Windows applications to still run, which meant that enterprise applications and personal applications could all still be used. Yet, people cry endlessly about the lack of a Start button and menu? It doesn't magically do your work for you either. Is that a drawback? I'm starting to think there's something to this whole paranoid theory that cell phones are burning holes in peoples' brains.

          --Master Joe
      • Are you volunteering to retrain all enterprise user for free?

        "I don't need" is a silly thing to say. Business worry more about new training cost more than the cost of software itself. All those MS defenders please let us know if you are offering to field all the tech support call about "how do I ...","where is ..." for free. Otherwise the cost is too great for all businesses.
        • Not Rocket Science

          If you are employing someone who can't spend 5 minutes reading the new help files or Binging for easy info you're hiring the wrong people. Unless, of course you enjoy babysitting. The retraining issue deplored by IT departments is deplored just for that reason, they end up dealing with children who refuse to do anything to help themselves.
          • Really??

            We hire doctors and nurses, and they can't figure out Windows 7. These are highly educated people, who simply have no time, nor desire to have to figure these things out.
          • Question

            Don't doctor and nurses learn on a regular basis so as to keep up-to-date with current practices in medicine, surgery, health, etc?

            ...So, if they can master such difficult and time-consuming things, why on earth are they having trouble with Windows 7?

            Sounds like people need a change in attitude, if anything.
          • Docs and Nurses...

            Then need to spend time and energy on their jobs first and their medical training second. A computer is a TOOL, just like a scalpel. They don't need the scalpels interface to change every couple of years and they don't need it from their computers either. It's not a game, it's not a fun toy. It's a TOOL and only a TOOL. Get it yet? Why should they waste time on a marketing gimmick MS decides to force on people to help spur sales and make themselves even more money. It is not in the user's interest that 8 was crammed down user's throats. It's in M$'s. If you like it, that's great. But don't expect people who just want to use the tool to like having to relearn things that have no benefit to their patients.