Should you update to Windows 8.1?

Now, as Windows 8.1 has been released, the inevitable question arises: “Should we update?” In this post, I’ll explain what communication you should give your colleagues as your organization plans to update their devices to Windows 8.1.

Sander BerkouwerMVP By Sander Berkouwer - Mon, October 28, 2013 - 0 comments

Sander Berkouwer is a Microsoft Certified Professional and a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with over a decade of experience in IT.

“It depends”

One of the most-heard answers in technology is “it depends.” While it doesn’t always depend on the technology at hand but on the process, communications, etc. in this case, it does depend on the technology used by your colleagues, today, for a big piece.

Colleagues using Windows 7 and prior

When you’ve equipped your colleagues with Windows 7 or prior versions of Windows, you can safely tell them that the quirks in Windows 8 have been resolved. In particular:

  • Windows 8.1 offers a Start button by default.
  • Windows 8.1 allows you to boot directly to the desktop.
  • Windows 8.1 allows you to use your desktop wallpaper as the Start screen background.
  • Windows 8.1 offers Help tips and a Help + Tips app to get you acquainted with the new interface.

Boot to the desktop

Now, some of these features are not on by default. The new Start button is available by default, but if you want your colleagues to get their familiar desktops after logging in, you’ll need to set the Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in or when all the apps on a screen are closed Group Policy setting. For individual users who request this functionality, you can instruct them to do so on the Navigation tab of the Taskbar and Navigation Properties screen. Simply right-click the taskbar in desktop mode, select Properties from the context menu, head to the Navigation tab, and select the When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.

Set the desktop wallpaper as Start screen background

Also, while your colleagues will be able to select their desktop wallpaper from the available Start screen themes in the Start screen’s Personalization options, you might want to go ahead and configure this new functionality out of the box with the Force a specific Start background group policy setting:

Force a specific Start background

Force a specific Start background

If you set the Background ID: to 20, it will force the desktop background to be the Start screen background.

Colleagues using Windows 8

When you’ve been using Windows 8 in your organization for some time, the above changes to Windows 8.1 might sound horrendous. Even worse: you might have already convinced your colleagues that not having a Start button is for the best. Some colleagues might already be hooked on the new interface, too, on their tablets.

In that case, you might want to tell them that:

  • Windows 8.1 offers automatic app updates so they’ll no longer have to manually update apps through the Store app.
  • Windows 8.1 allows for much more personalization of the Start screen and new interface.
  • Windows 8.1’s SkyDrive integration might be just what you need on your tablet(s).
  • Windows 8.1 is now able to synchronize app installs and uninstalls between devices.
  • Windows 8.1 no longer clutters the Start screen with a tile for every app you install.

Automatic app updates

Automatic App Updates is enabled by default on Windows 8.1. However, this convenience might come at a price. You’ll place a lot of confidence in the developers with this setting on. If you’re not yet ready to do that, you can disable this feature with the Turn off Automatic Download and Install of updates group policy setting, which is part of the Store group policy settings:

Automatic app updates

Automatic app updates

For individual colleagues, you should not set the Group Policy. Instead, instruct them to disable app updates through the Settings in the Store app. A special section there for App updates lets them select no as the answer to Automatically update my apps.

Removing the Start button

The Start button is available in Windows 8.1 and forced upon your colleagues. In Windows 8, colleagues wanting a Start button needed a third-party tool to enable or install one. In Windows 8.1, colleagues who want to remove the Start button need to use a third-party tool to remove it. Start Killer is a good app for that.

General To Dos

Some other settings you might want to set centrally don’t depend on the Windows operating system your colleagues are using but rather on the technology in use:

Internet Explorer Enhanced Protection Mode

When your organization relies on plug-ins in Internet Explorer, you might want to disable Enhanced Protection Mode in Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 8.1. This advanced security feature is enabled by default in both the Internet Explorer in the new interface and on the desktop, but it might hinder your colleagues in retaining their functionality when they’re not equipped with Administrator rights on their devices. Use an Internet Explorer group policy preference (GPP) to disable it.

SkyDrive integration

Windows 8.1 offers intense SkyDrive integration, and much of the functionality can now be managed with Group Policy settings. When your organization has no interest in allowing colleagues to store files in the public cloud, you can disable the use of SkyDrive by setting the Prevent the usage of SkyDrive for file storage Group Policy setting. Also of interest is the Prevent SkyDrive files from syncing over metered connections setting, which allows your organization to save money on 3G and 4G subscriptions by reducing the amount of SkyDrive synchronization traffic over those connections.

Color scheme enforcement

When your organization is heavily attached to its corporate color scheme, you can set this color scheme throughout the Start screen and the new interface. A new Group Policy setting, labeled Force a specific background and accent color, allows you to force colors for both the background color and the accent color. Use hex color code values like #000000 and #0000ff to set these colors. The marketing department should be able to provide the right values for this.

Group Policy Caching

Windows 8.1 introduces a new feature called Group Policy Caching. This feature keeps a cached copy of the policies and preferences. The challenge, however, is that when a policy or preference was changed since the last Group Policy background refresh, these changes will not apply and, as an admin, you might start to doubt yourself. You can disable Group Policy Caching with the Configure Group Policy Caching group policy setting:

Group Policy Caching

Group Policy Caching

When you set it to Disabled, you turn off the Group Policy Caching feature.

Concluding

Windows 8.1 offers new functionality for organizations running Windows 7 and Windows 8. Depending on your organization’s needs, you could look at the settings above to get the most out of your migration to Windows 8.1. Your colleagues and your bosses will appreciate you for it when you do.

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