Probably the best news about Windows 8.1 these days is that you don't have to use it. Microsoft, having seen how disappointed its corporate users are about Windows 8, has relented from last year's stance, and is allowing computer vendors to continue installing Windows 7 on new machines. This is a good thing because, otherwise, Windows 8.1 was well on its way to convincing corporate America that switching to Macs or Linux machines was the only choice.
In fact, I keep wondering if one major reason for the resurgence of Apple is actually because Microsoft had fallen so far out of touch with what corporate users needed. Let's face it, office users have a variety of desktop and laptop computers, few of which have touch-screens. They need an interface that's friendly to mouse and keyboard users. Windows 8 and 8.1 are strongly aimed at touch-screens.
Fortunately, Microsoft will be announcing the availability of Windows 9 at the end of September, with a preview version apparently available soon after that. Apparently the new OS will be released to an unsuspecting public sometime in the spring of 2015. This is good news, although better news would be if Windows 9 (also known as "Threshold") were already available.
Unfortunately, it's not. In fact, some of the promised upgrades that were intended to make Windows 8.1 more palatable to corporate users have apparently been scuttled. Worse, the few that remained in the pipeline are apparently on hold as Microsoft cancels the planned August update after widespread quality issues. What's worse is that the cancelled update to 8.1 still shows up on some Windows Update screens, but then fails to download and install.
The current Windows Update glitch is so bad that despite hours on the phone with engineers, Microsoft's support staff finally gave up and suggested that the only solution is to reinstall Windows 8.1. I still haven't found out a good way to install Windows 8.1 on a Surface tablet that came with Windows 8.
The reason this situation is so scary to enterprise IT managers is that an unstable update or, worse, one that fails, is worse than no update at all. When an update gets stuck in a failure mode such as the ones that seem to affect Windows 8.1, you can't really do anything with the computer. Adding to the frustration, Microsoft has made its most recent update to Windows so that it's mandatory, meaning that you can't get any other updates including security updates, until it's installed.
Now, suppose that the same is true with Windows 9? Suppose you download the new software and find that some or all of your machines won't work with the update, that Microsoft has no easy solution, and that you're basically out of luck. The one bright spot may be that if you're careful with updates, you'll have tried out the Windows 9 software on only a few machines first, and you'll know that it won't work in advance. But if the update becomes mandatory, what then?