Windows 8.1, a free update for Windows 8, is set to launch sometime later this year. While Microsoft has already teased several new enhancements for users, it has largely kept mum on the features aimed at IT managers. That changed June 3 during Microsoft's TechEd conference in New Orleans.
Promising to show attendees "some things that we've done that are more focused on the business world," Iain McDonald, partner director of program management for Windows, discussed some of the many Windows 8.1 updates that are designed to ease enterprise deployment and management. He reiterating that the company was readying a preview of the update, code-named Windows Blue, for June 26 to coincide with the Build conference and that it would indeed be officially released in 2013.
McDonald kicked things off by laying to rest any concerns about backward compatibility.
When Microsoft launched Windows 8, the company assured the industry that "anything that ran on Windows 7 would run on Windows 8," said McDonald. The line will remain unbroken, he added, stating that "anything that runs on Windows 8 runs on Windows 8.1."
McDonald then went on to describe several new features like Assigned Access. According to a Windows for Your Business blog post by Erwin Visser, Microsoft's general manager of Windows Commercial Marketing, Assigned Access allows administrators to deliver a locked-down, "single Windows Store application experience." In McDonald's example, the capability would allow a school to prevent its students from opening a browser window while using a test-taking app.
Wireless workflows also featured prominently. Windows 8.1 will include Miracast wireless display support Wi-Fi Direct printing and near-field communication (NFC) tap-to-pair printing, the latter of which crawled in McDonald's demo due to the pre-release nature of the code and the venue's crowded airwaves. Users will be able to turn their Windows 8.1 PCs or tablets into personal hotspots via broadband tethering support and quickly access secure corporate networks with a one-click, auto-triggered VPN.
On the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) front, Microsoft announced that the update will support remote business data removal. The feature allows companies to remotely wipe business-related files and content on personal devices while leaving personal data unscathed.
Windows 8.1 will also integrate a little more seamlessly with mobile-device management (MDM) solutions, courtesy of Open MDM support. Visser explained that the "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," wrote Visser.
In addition, Microsoft has been working to beef up Windows' defenses. New fingerprint biometrics support and improved Virtual Smart Cards multi-factor authentication offer IT managers more authentication options. Microsoft's free antivirus software, Windows Defender, will gain new network behavior-monitoring capabilities to thwart unknown threats.