Microsoft Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview Available

Microsoft has made the business-oriented version of its latest operating system, Windows 8.1 Enterprise, available in a preview version for testers.

Microsoft has announced that Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview, the version of the company's new operating system aimed at businesses, is now available for download.

In a blog post, Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows commercial marketing at Microsoft, announced the new OS preview and invited IT pros and other users to start testing it. Visser also described some of what he referred to as "premium features" in the release that meet the mobility, security, management and virtualization needs of today's enterprise.

One such feature is the Windows To Go Creator, which enables users to create a corporate Windows 8.1 desktop on a bootable external USB drive. That drive can then support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scenarios, Visser said. The Windows To Go mobility tool enables users to work from any location or computer they choose.

Windows 8.1 Enterprise also offer Start Screen Control to enable IT departments to control the layout of the Start screen on enterprise devices to make sure key corporate applications are easily accessible. This control also enables IT departments to prevent users from customizing their Start screen.

Other key enterprise features include DirectAccess, which enables users to access resources inside a corporate network remotely without having to launch a separate VPN. BranchCache caches files, Websites and other content from central servers locally on hosted cache servers or PCs. And AppLocker restricts the files and applications users can run on a PC.

Microsoft also provides Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) in Windows 8.1 Enterprise. This feature enables workers to play 3D graphics, connect USB peripherals and use touch-enabled devices across networks through enhancements in Microsoft RemoteFX and Windows Server 2012. The new OS also features side loading, where Windows apps can be side-loaded on domain-joined PC and tablets running Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

In addition to these enterprise features, Visser noted that at TechEd North America 2013, Microsoft announced a broader set of business capabilities in Windows 8.1, including:

  • 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 allows 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.

Meanwhile, Visser said an important note to point out is that the life cycle of Windows 8.1 will remain under the same life cycle policy as Windows 8 with support ending 1/10/2023.

"Windows 8 customers will have two years to move to Windows 8.1 after the general availability of the Windows 8.1 update to continue to remain supported under Windows 8 life cycle," Visser said. "With the availability of Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview, it is time to start planning your deployment—and there are deployment tools and guidance available to help make these updates seamless for customers."

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston last month, Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief financial officer and chief marketing officer for Windows, said Microsoft planned to make Windows 8.1 available to OEMs by the end of this month.