Windows 8.1 also has a few business-oriented tricks up its sleeve

The Windows 8.1 Preview launched yesterday with much fanfare at Microsoft's Build conference in San Francisco. On the other side of the planet, meanwhile, Microsoft was kicking off TechEd Europe, where it revealed the features and benefits of Windows 8.1 for business users.

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The Windows 8.1 Preview launched with much fanfare at Microsoft's Build conference in San Francisco but it was at TechEd Europe in Madrid where the features and benefits of Windows 8.1 for business users were spelled out.

Microsoft has developed a number of features and improvements designed specifically for business customers, and to help IT admins deploy and manage Windows 8 devices. John DeVaan, corporate vice president for Windows Development at Microsoft, shared the business-centric aspects of Windows 8.1 at a keynote at the TchEd Europe 2013 event.

The Start button, booting directly to desktop, and some of the other elements of Windows 8.1 are great for business users as well, but there are two things in particular that IT admins will appreciate: First, Windows 8.1 lets IT admins control the layout of the Windows 8.1 Start screen. Second, the new Assigned Access mode lets businesses lock down a Windows 8.1 device, so that it can only run only a single designated app.

Some companies are stricter than others about how much autonomy users have to customise and make Windows their own. Controlling the Start screen layout isn't a purely draconian control, though. A consistent interface helps users work more efficiently, and makes it easier for IT support personnel to manage and troubleshoot user issues.

Microsoft also threw in some features for managing Windows 8.1 mobile devices. IT admins can remotely wipe sensitive data from Windows 8.1 devices, and Microsoft has worked to integrate Windows 8.1 management with many leading MDM (mobile device management) platforms.

Microsoft also unveiled updates to the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) related to Windows 8.1. Application Virtualisation 5.0 SP2 (App-V 5.0 SP2), and User Experience Virtualisation 2.0 (UE-V 2.0) have both been updated with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 in mind. UE-V 2.0 now supports Windows Store apps, and it enhances the way settings and applications sync across devices.

Windows 8.1 for business

At first blush, Windows 8.1 seems to be a dramatic improvement over Windows 8. Microsoft has addressed crucial complaints that have forced many businesses and consumers to avoid Windows 8, and it has added a variety of features and improvements that make Windows 8 a better operating system overall.

Will Windows 8.1 spark a mass migration to adopt the new Microsoft OS? Probably not. Businesses don't work that way. Even if businesses embrace Windows 8.1, it will take some time before the deployments catch up with that sentiment.

PCs--as in traditional desktop and laptop PCs--are declining in relevance. Many users do more personal computing on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Windows 8.1, however, straddles the line between PC and mobile--it provides a full Windows desktop experience on tablets, convertibles, and ultrabook hybrids.

Businesses will eventually move to Windows 8--and Windows 8.1--out of pure attrition. With Windows 8.1, though, Microsoft has given businesses many reasons to choose to switch now, rather than doing so under duress--kicking and screaming--only when there's no other option.

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