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Windows 8.1 for Business Users

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The introduction of the touch-centric Windows 8 marked a dramatic change for Microsoft.  Whereas previous versions of Windows had followed a consistent user interface style since Windows 95, with Win8 the company changed their approach to introduce bold colors on large tiles.  Many users resisted this change especially since it marked the loss of their familiar “Start” menu. 

While Microsoft has remain steadfast in its support of this generational shift, it has acknowledged that some changes are necessary with the introduction of Windows 8.1 (previously referred to as Windows Blue).  Many business users do not necessarily see a big need for touch-based interfaces, at least not for their day-to-day tasks (Word, Outlook, Excel, etc).  In an attempt to address their needs and provide them with compelling reasons to upgrade, Microsoft is highlighting some new business-centric features coming in Windows 8.1.

These improvements begin with enhanced VPN support:  applications configured to require a VPN connection will now prompt the user for a simplified sign-on process.  Biometrics and smart card support will also receive better support.  Corporate IT-departments will be able to customize and secure the Start screen to mandate a unified environment for devices.  Remote data deletion will also be possible when users are using their personal device to access and store company data.  This allows companies to safeguard their proprietary information while also keeping the employee’s personal data segregated.

Assigned Access is an interesting new feature that lets an administrator designate a specific Windows Store app to be the primary experience on a device.  This creates a kiosk-like experience for merchants to offer their customers (or reassures a parent that when their child is using a specific app that they cannot wreak havoc on the rest of the system.)

Mobile users will see some of the biggest gains as NFC support is added for printing.  Both enterprise NFC-enabled printers and those with an add-on NFC tag can communicate with computers/tablets running 8.1.  Miracast wireless display via NFC is also available and this should make presentations much easier.  Similarly Wi-Fi Direct printing is supported natively, without requiring additional drivers.

Finally, the clock continues to wind down towards the end of Microsoft’s support for Windows XP in April 2014, so Microsoft has reiterated their guidance for businesses to either continue or begin testing migrating to a modern operating system—which they define to be Windows 7 or 8.  This forthcoming 8.1 update seems to represent the carrot to the end of support’s stick.

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