Windows 8 Enterprise users can now download a preview version of the first major update for Microsoft Corp.’s touch screen-friendly user interface. The general availability for the patch is expected in October.
Aside from the return of the Start button (sort of), what changes can business users expect from Windows 8.1? Windows team member Erwin Visser lays them out on the Windows blog. Here are a few of the new business capabilities he includes:
- Assigned Access: This new Windows 8.1 feature lets organizations enable a single Windows Store application experience on a device so the user only experiences the specified application but cannot access other system files and applications.
- Inbox VPN Clients: Windows 8.1 extends the ability to third party VPN providers to include versions of their VPN clients’ inbox. This means that on both x86 and ARM (RT) platforms, vendors can work with Microsoft to include their VPN functionality inbox with Windows 8.1.
- Open MDM: With Windows 8.1, 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. Enhanced policies allow administrators to manage more settings from both Windows Intune and the third-party MDM solutions for both Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1.
- Workplace join: Trusted devices running Windows 8.1 are allowed to access secured enterprise data.
- Remote business data removal: Allows personal devices to connect to, access and store company content that can be efficiently removed from the device by IT at a later date while leaving the personal data intact.
In addition to Visser’s features, there are more business goodies packed into the OS udpate. Here’s a few more as described by Microsoft’s TechNet page about Windows 8.1:
- Work folders: Work Folders allows a user to sync data to their device from their user folder located in the corporation’s data center. Files created locally will sync back to the file server in the corporate environment. This syncing is natively integrated into the file system. Note, this all happens outside the firewall client sync support. Previously, Windows 8 devices needed to be domain joined (or required domain credentials) for access to file shares. Syncing could be done with third-party folder replication apps. With Work Folders, Users can keep local copies of their work files on their devices, with automatic synchronization to your data center, and for access from other devices. IT can enforce Dynamic Access Control policies on the Work Folder Sync Share (including automated Rights Management) and require Workplace Join to be in place.
- Mobile Device Management: When a user enrolls their device, they are joining the device to the Windows Intune management service. They get access to the Company Portal which provides a consistent experience for access to their applications, data and to manage their own devices. This allows a deeper management experience with existing tools like Windows Intune. IT administrators now have deeper policy management for Windows RT devices, and can manage Windows 8.1 PCs as mobile devices without having deploy a full management client.
- Web Application Proxy: The Web Application Proxy is a new role service in the Windows Server Remote Access role. It provides the ability to publish access to corporate resources, and enforce multi-factor authentication as well as apply conditional access policies to verify both the user’s identity and the device they are using resources, and enforce multi-factor authentication as well as verify the device being used before access is granted.
- NFC Tap-to-pair Printing: Tap your Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you’re all set to print. No more hunting on your network for the correct printer and no need to buy a special printer to take advantage of this functionality. Simply attach an NFC tag to your existing printers to enable this functionality.
- Wi-Fi Direct Printing: Connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers without adding additional drivers or software on your Windows 8.1 device, forming a peer-to-peer network between your device and the printer.
- Native Miracast Wireless Display: Present your work wirelessly with no connection cords needed; just pair with a Miracast-enabled projector via NFC and Miracast will use Wi-Fi to let you project wire-free.
Windows 8 users will need to upgrade to version 8.1 within two years of the general availability release to remain supported, Microsoft says. By the way, if you’re wondering when the Windows 8 support will end, as Windows XP’s support is ending next year, you won’t have to sweat about getting cut off until Jan. 10, 2023.