In a mixed environment of touchscreens and desktops, legacy business apps can often add complexity. Microsoft has realised this: its enhanced Windows 8.1 Update adds a host of new features that will make life easier for enterprises.
Revealed at developer event the Microsoft Build Conference, the enhanced operating system (OS) takes into account that although older apps continue to work in the traditional desktop environment, they are difficult to leverage on touch-friendly Windows 8 devices. This has posed a challenge for developers.
Brokered Windows Runtime
Windows 8.1 Update aims to make life easier by unifying Microsoft's developer platform, Windows Store and Windows Phone Store to synchronise app experiences across devices.
Perhaps the most important Windows 8.1 Update feature, Brokered Windows Runtime allows corporate developers and vendors to use most of their old Win32 code, transforming legacy business apps into modern touch apps able to run on Windows 8.1.
For organisations that develop their own line-of-business apps, Microsoft has provided a mechanism called “side-loading” that allows the installation of apps without using the Windows Store. Once enabled, any app can be installed.
Furthermore, side-loaded Windows Store apps are now able to receive push notifications via Windows Notification Services. Using a Windows Store developer account, firms can reserve an app name and use its identity. This app identity will not be deleted from active developer accounts, even if the app has not been published to the Windows Store.
The move allows enterprise developers to easily reuse code and business logic within apps. Therefore, writing Windows 8.1 versions of business apps can be done cheaply and efficiently.
More new features
Along with security and reliability enhancements, Windows 8.1 Update comes with improvements in personalisation, search, the Windows Store, and cloud connectivity. It's fast and made to work on a variety of devices, particularly those that take advantage of touch.
Although touchscreens are infiltrating the enterprise at a great pace, many businesses are also using a mouse and keyboard. For this reason Microsoft has added familiar mouse and keyboard features into Windows 8.1 Update. One such feature is the ability to run the cursor to the top of the screen to reveal the title bar. You can also close or minimise the app by clicking the mouse.
Another new feature, 'Enterprise Mode', has been added to the browser that comes with Windows 8.1, Internet Explorer 11, allowing it to properly render legacy web apps written for IE8. It also offers extended Mobile Device Management (MDM) features, easier deployment and better hardware support. This is a purely business feature not available on consumer Windows, and it can be enabled by the IT department by implementing a group policy.
The Start screen
Improvements have also been made to the 'Start' screen: employees can right click on a tile to increase or reduce its size, or use the 'shift, click' command to group together a set of tiles and move them.
The Start screen also includes a power button so users can turn off the machine in one click.
Meanwhile, due for launch in May, Windows Phone 8.1 brings improved security and manageability to smartphones. This includes more customisation options and the ability to add a three-column view of tiles across all screen sizes. On top of this, the enhanced platform comes with an 'Action Centre' which can show notifications from the device.
How to update
Windows XP's lifespan has now come to end, yet many firms are still using the outdated operating system. Experts advise these enterprises to upgrade.
If your PC is currently running Windows 8 or Windows RT, it's free to update via the Windows Store from April 8. If you are still running XP, however, you will need help to upgrade as soon as possible - and it's likely this will entail a hardware refresh. You can do this using Dell Windows Migration Services which makes the process quick and easy, possibly halving the time taken to upgrade.
Windows 8.1 Update enables the latest hardware innovations across a broad array of devices to fit any business need. From tablets through to mobile workstations, Microsoft's hardware partners, such as Dell, are able to deliver low-cost machines that will meet most enterprise requirements.