Remember when we as admins used to use the rule of thumb that thou shalt not roll out an enterprise OS until a service pack comes out? Going by that rule of thumb Windows 8’s days are soon to come. Microsoft recently announced that what they are now calling Windows 8.1, formerly Windows Blue, will have a public preview released on June 26.
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After all the issues and bad press the fine folks from Redmond has taken over the last few months it looks like they have listened and even added a few features that will hopefully help the latest Windows OS finally live up to its promise. At Microsoft’s TechEd this week the company announced even more features of the new OS, specifically in how this release will work within the Enterprise. Let’s take a look.

1 Start button

Most of you at this point have already heard that the Start button is back, but don’t think this means an end to the Metro UI. It is still there, but now you’ll have a desktop button to get to it.

2 Booting to desktop

Further you’ll also have the option to set your computer to boot to the desktop, as opposed to booting to Metro, something I think we’ll all find nice as we try to get users to make the leap from Windows 7 or even Windows XP.

3 PC settings

Speaking of settings, it seems Microsoft is heavily expanding the PC Settings area of the Metro UI to keep you from having to jump back and forth from here to legacy Windows settings GUI or even to the registry for fine tuning your PC or tablet. As a user of a Dell Latitude 10 Windows 8 tablet I can tell you this will be a much appreciated by the tablet folks.

4 Revamped apps

Metro apps and their method of delivery seem to be a focus as well. The Windows Store and many of the default apps have been revamped including the Communications suite.

5 Updating apps

Also apps purchased or installed through the Windows Store will no longer have to be manually updated, this will automatically be done for you. In my hopes and dreams there will soon be an announcement as well for Office 2013.1 which will finally have a Metro interface for Outlook and the rest.

6 SkyDrive

SkyDrive is also getting what is termed an update in that it will now support an offline mode that is synchronized for you when you go back online. I am hoping this is implemented much in the same way as the SkyDrive app for Windows 7, allowing you to always work with the locally cached copy of your SkyDrive data for faster access. Even in a well-connected environment saving to SkyDrive from Windows 8 is sometimes painfully slow.

7 Printing

Microsoft has also taken a big swing at enhancing the OS in ways that specifically target the Enterprise IT folks. Printing capabilities have been increased with support for both NFC and Wi-Fi Direct printing capabilities. With the NFC option all you have to do to add a NFC capable printer is walk up to it with your Windows 8.1 device and tap it against it and the printer will be added for you. Wi-Fi Direct will allow wireless users to connect to the printer without any additional drivers. For me, I see these as being great options for guest wireless, but I think it is going to require most of the heavy lifting to be done by the printer manufacturers.

8 Networking

Connectivity also seems to be enhanced. First off broadband tethering will be supported, turning your mobile broadband enabled Windows 8.1 device into a hot spot for everything else.

You will also have the capability to automatically connect to a VPN endpoint based on need, both with native Windows VPN as well as third party VPN Clients, i.e. Cisco AnyConnect.

9 Open MDM

Everybody seems to live Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, these days. Microsoft has finally got on the bandwagon with making management a better proposition with enhanced BYOD controls. To start off with, Microsoft will support Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (Open MDM) specifications so that you will have the abilities to control devices through services such AirWatch without needing to install an app on the managed device. Greater controls such as an enforced Start screen layout and remote business data removal will now be supported as well.

10 Workplace Join

Microsoft will now also add support for a middle ground of Domain membership. The Workplace Join feature will allow for devices (not just Windows 8.1 but Apple iOS and Android as well) to be considered “trusted, allowing them to access company data and access to be controlled in a centralized manner.

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All in all, it looks like a fairly robust feature list. While we are used to Microsoft’s Service Packs coming with a bunch of bug fixes and a few new features and enhancements, you can see why they chose to hang the .1 moniker on this release. Here’s hoping that the reality of this OS will be the Windows 7 to Windows 8’s Vista.


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