Microsoft's focus on the consumer market with Windows 8 left enterprise users in the lurch. That should change with Windows 8.1, writes Rhys Evans.
The enterprise adoption of Windows 8 hasn't been good news for Microsoft at all. At the end of last month it had single-digit market share and Windows 7 still dominated the desktop market. Many organisations still need to migrate from Windows XP before Microsoft ends support for it in April, but they're migrating from XP to the more familiar Windows 7, rather than the newer OS.
One enterprise bugbear has been the lack of a start button. Without that button, accessing the start screen from the desktop required a mouse click on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, loading the charms bar from the right or pressing of the start key. On a touch-screen device without mouse or keyboard this was difficult and not intuitive.
The other problem was Windows 8's inability to boot directly to the desktop. For most companies the desktop is the first port of call as that is where the enterprise applications reside, so mandating that extra click is rightfully seen as not intuitive.
Windows 8.1 is clearly designed to win back enterprise customers through a few small but critical updates. Users can now boot directly to the desktop, and the start button makes a return. The start screen has been updated and can now be configured to show a list of installed applications rather than the "modern UI Apps" that would previously be shown on Windows 8. This makes more sense for corporate users.
There are a couple of other business-focused features in Windows 8.1 such as the Windows To Go for BYOD devices, the ability to control how the start screen looks and apply it to all Windows 8.1 machines on the network for easy corporate standardisation. There are improvements to the clientless VPN, easier application management and control with AppLocker, and improved side-loading of Windows Store applications.
I've been playing with the Windows 8.1 Enterprise preview on a Spyrus Secure Portable Drive WTG USB key for a week and I welcome the improvements it delivers over Windows 8. Searching is improved - now when typing a search term after pressing or clicking Start, Windows searches everywhere rather than a specific category.
So has Windows 8.1 addressed the initial enterprise concerns of Windows 8? Is it the modern operating system the enterprise market has been waiting for? To a large extent I think so. These improvements and a more refined User Interface make Windows 8.1 an operating system that is ready to deploy to corporate environments.