Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update Targets Enterprise Mobility, Security

Windows 8.1 Update is more than a user-friendly makeover. Microsoft is signaling to businesses that update has many features to support enterprise mobile applications and bolster security.

Included with the many mobile-centric features announced for Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Phone 8.1 during Microsoft's Build conference in San Francisco were a number of enhancements that allow organizations to balance mobile work styles with enterprise-grade user management.

In a session headed by Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows and Windows Phone, the company showed off how Windows 8.1 makes it possible for businesses to embrace mobility without compromising the security of corporate data.

Microsoft says it's achieving this by expanding support for mobile device management (MDM) suites in Windows 8.1. These suites, from Microsoft and from partners such as AirWatch, allow administrators to blacklist or whitelist apps, enable URL filtering and configure the new Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11 (IE11).

This new feature was inspired by enterprise customers whose apps haven't kept up with the times, said Visser. "A lot of customers have internal IE8 web apps," he said. Microsoft's solution is a new compatibility mode that is configured by administrators that renders sites properly in the new browser and preserves their functionality. A blue icon resembling office buildings appears alongside the address bar when Enterprise Mode is active, denoting that IE11 is running an older app.

In more welcome news for businesses that have widely deployed Windows 8.1's predecessors, Visser said that "Enterprise Mode for IE 11 will be supported in Windows 7 as well as Windows 8." Additionally, Enterprise Mode in IE11 will "accelerate their migration to Windows 8.1" for organizations that are on the fence about adopting the OS over fears that their Web apps will be incompatible.

Also new is Enterprise Sideloading. Free with select volume licenses, the feature gives customers the ability "to install Modern apps using their management infrastructure," bypassing the Windows Store.

Visser added that organizations can opt to pay $100 for Enterprise Sideloading rights on an unlimited number of devices. All told, said Visser, the capability is an example of Microsoft's efforts to remove barriers to managing and deploying apps within their environments.

Observing that the distinctions between "productivity and industry tablets are fading," Microsoft is rolling out Windows Embedded Edition Rights, Visser announced.

Under the new system, volume license holders with Software Assurance for Windows or Windows Embedded can choose either Windows Enterprise or Windows Industry Enterprise (Embedded) on their devices, the latter constituting "a targeted version of Windows specifically for industry solutions that have more advanced lockdown capabilities than Windows has." Health care companies, retailers, financial firms and other businesses with strict or limited software needs are now offered the option to deploy full-featured systems or devices that run one or two select apps.

Ultimately, the changes reflect Microsoft's "mobile-first, cloud-first" approach to business computing. In a candid assessment of the mobile space, Visser concluded that "we are a challenger and we are acting like a challenger." Given the company's new priorities, he said his company was "innovating hard on Windows and on Windows Phone."

Windows 8.1 Update is available now for MSDN subscribers and will be official launched to the public as a free download on April 8.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...