It was always inevitable you'd get Windows 8.1 on your desktop. But surprisingly, you may actually like it.
Microsoft unveiled the preview version of Windows 8.1 on Wednesday, with new capabilities designed to make it more appealing to business users and enterprise IT.
"We pushed boldly in Windows 8," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a Microsoft developer's conference Wednesday. "And yet what we found is that we got a lot of feedback from users. If I were put it in coffee terms, they said, 'Why don't you refine the blend here?' "
With Windows 8.1, users gain the ability to boot directly into the traditional desktop interface. It's a simple thing, but don't underestimate its appeal. Changing to a new user interface requires a lot of getting used to, and time-consuming, expensive training for many users. The ability for users and IT to make that change at their own pace is a big deal.
Users can even hybridize the traditional and so-called "modern" desktop, allowing app tiles to float over the traditional desktop.
Under the hood, Windows 8.1 boasts new management features that will appeal to IT. Users will find it easier to print documents, with NFC tap-to-pair printing. "Tap your Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you're all set to print," Microsoft said. Tap-to-pair printing can work with existing printers by just attaching an inexpensive NFC tag to them. Similarly, users can print by making direct, peer-to-peer WiFi connections.
Other Windows 8.1 features that will appeal to end-users and enterprise IT include: Miracast support that allows users to wirelessly project content to a supported device. Broadband tethering enables Windows 8.1 to function as a personal WiFi hotspot. Apps will be able to auto-trigger VPN connections when needed. Security enhancements provide new access controls, including fingerprint-based biometrics and improved multi-factor authentication using Virtual Smart Cards.
Windows 8.1 gets improved malware resistance, better BYOD support, Mobile Device Management capabilities, remote business data removal, and improved controls to allow IT to control the layout of the Start screen. Many of these features are coming to Windows RT as well.
Wednesday wasn't just a Windows day for Microsoft. The company also had some other news:
All in all, a good day for Microsoft and its users. The company has been flailing for much of the decade; Wednesday's news was tight, appealing to users, and a return to the Microsoft we all loved to hate in the 90s.
What do you think? Is Windows 8.1 in your future?
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ó Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution