Windows 8.1 isn’t perfect, but the enterprise version adds features IT has been wanting, says Wayne Rash
Windows 8.1 may be a poor strategic move by Microsoft, but Windows 8.1 Enterprise will give corporate users several features they have been asking for.
This new version of Microsoft Windows includes security enhancements, management tools and new features aimed at implementing and securing BYOD mobile units. This new version also allows unprecedented configuration for the corporate environment, allowing the IT staff to make Windows 8.1 enterprise look and function exactly as the managers wish.
Getting windows under control
The enterprise configuration features bring a new level of control to the Windows interface. Managers can adjust the layout of the tiles on the Windows Start screen so that corporate-issued apps show up on the main part of the screen. In addition, the IT department can then prevent users from changing the Start screen layout so that all company-issued computers have the same screen appearance.
The IT department also can configure Windows 8.1 Enterprise so that it boots directly to the desktop, just as you could when Microsoft released the Windows 8.1 Preview. As is the case with the tiled Start Screen, the IT staff can prevent users from tampering with that setting.
Microsoft highlighted some of the new enterprise-friendly features when it released Windows 8.1. Now that the Windows 8.1 Enterprise preview is available, Microsoft’s general manager of commercial marketing, Erwin Visser, provided a better look at the preview’s contents in a blog post. It’s clear that not everything that will eventually appear in the Enterprise version of Windows 8.1 is in the preview, but what’s there is intriguing.
For example, Microsoft is paying a lot of attention to BYOD and remote workers. There’s the Windows To Go Creator that lets IT staff create a full Windows desktop that can be installed on a flash drive. Then, all a user needs to do is find a Windows 8 computer, plug in the flash drive and suddenly they’ve got their standard company desktop and Start Screen.
Windows 8.1 Enterprise also includes something that Microsoft calls DirectAccess, which does away with the need to launch a separate VPN. Instead DirectAccess provids corporate applications with a secure means of access so that they can reach inside the firewall securely.
DirectAccess also keeps track of security policies and automatically updates users’ remote computers with current security software updates and policy updates. However, Microsoft has also announced that there will be a wider range of VPN clients in Windows 8.1 and Windows RT devices.
Other features that appear in Windows 8.1 Enterprise include Open MDM, which does away with the need for a separate client for mobile device management to run the most common MDM software. IT departments supporting BYOD will also get Remote Business Data Removal, which is a means of clearing a mobile computer of corporate information without disturbing personal information. This makes it vastly easier for the IT department to allow the use of personal devices because they know that any company data can be kept safe.
Microsoft picks up on security
Microsoft has clearly taken the hint regarding security. Device encryption is included as a standard feature, and so is automatic scanning for malware by Internet Explorer 11. Microsoft is including Windows Defender antivirus as part of Windows 8.1 which will scan programs before execution and monitor network behavior to spot malware by its activities, regardless of whether it has a known signature.
The security enhancements continue with what Microsoft calls Device Lockdown, which is actually a means of limiting access to the Windows Store to only approved apps. Windows 8.1 Enterprise will also include application side-loading so that corporate apps don’t need to be uploaded to the Windows Store prior to being installed.
Rather than make this a laundry list of Windows 8.1 features, it’s better to say that Windows 8.1 Enterprise appears to be a real enterprise platform. While it shares much in common with the consumer versions of Windows 8.1, there’s also a lot that’s new that consumers will never see.
Of course, Microsoft has offered special enterprise features for Windows business users before. But now they’re being offered as an integral part of the operating system, in much the same way as it delivered Windows 7 Enterprise, but this time with more features and deeper integration.
The preview version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise is available for download now. Microsoft is also offering deployment help, and there’s a new blog for deployment planning geared to Windows 8.1. Some of the Microsoft Windows 8.1 deployment tools are already available for you to try out.
Even if you haven’t started using the initial Windows 8.1 Preview software, this is a good time to download the version that’s aimed at the IT department and start getting familiar with this new version of Windows. With the changes designed to make the experience significantly more enterprise friendly, and with the significant security and management improvements, you may find that Windows 8 isn’t so bad after all, especially now that you can boot directly to the desktop.
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Originally published on eWeek.