TechEd 2013: Windows 8.1 to offer enterprise security and connectivity boost

Microsoft has shed some further light on the enterprise benefits of upgrading to Windows 8.1, revealing that there is more to the new release than simply the return of the Start button.

The company published a blog outlining some of the general features users can expect to see in the new release last week, but stopped short of going into any great depth about its enterprise benefits.

Instead the vendor seems to have held back on that information until the first day of its TechEd conference in New Orleans, where the business features of the new OS were discussed at length.

People haven't liked the things we've taken out of Windows 8 and some haven't liked the things we've put back in with Windows 8.1.

During the event's opening keynote, Iain McDonald, Microsoft's director of programme management, touched on the return of the Start button and the fact users will have more opportunities to personalise the look and feel of the OS in 8.1.

"We've had Windows 8 out for eight months so far [and] we've been getting lots of feedback. We've sold over 100 million copies...we've got over 70,000 apps in the store, and we know we've got hundreds of millions of downloads of those apps," he said.

"And are we happy with it? Yeah, we're happy with it."

Despite this, he admitted some of the changes introduced in Windows 8 did not go down well with everyone, but neither have some of the features it has announced for the latest version.

"In the last year...especially in the tech industry you probably would have heard people not liking things that were taken out of Windows 8 or there are some people now that [now] we've announced Windows 8.1, not liking we've put things back into Windows," he admitted.

Windows means business

McDonald then went on to showcase a number of Windows 8.1's new connectivity and security features, which should make the operating system a little more appealing to business users.

These include the introduction of its Assigned Access feature, which will allow certain users to boot to a specific application once they've logged into their device.

The function would come into its own in an exam setting, said Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows Commercial business, where teachers set students computer-based exams and don't want them going online to find out the answers.

Windows 8.1 devices can also be tethered to allow other PCs to connect to mobile broadband services, with Microsoft claiming up to 10 machines could be supported in this way. Although, McDonald admitted the connection might get a little slow around the "eight-to-nine" devices mark.

"You can use your PC as a personal hotspot... just like you would to a Wi-Fi hotspot," Visser remarked.

Users that want to hook up their Windows 8.1 devices to a projector will no longer be burdened down with trying to work out which lead to use, thanks to the inclusion of Miracast, which was described by McDonald as a "great sort of PowerPoint display technology".

The software, essentially, pairs up the device with the projector, he explained.

"It's not really a thing that you're going to go and want to have sitting in your desk and always be the way that you're connecting to your screen in your office, but it's great for that sort of conference room or presentation area," McDonald added.

Continuing with the connectivity theme, he also said users would be able to lean on near-field communication technology in Windows 8.1 to "tap" compatible devices, such as printers, and make them interact with their tablet or PC.

Securing the enterprise

Despite Microsoft trumpeting the fact that Windows 7 is six times more likely to get infected with a computer virus than its successor, the vendor is planning to rollout a number of security enhancements to the operating system when 8.1 finally drops.

Chris Hallam, senior product manager for Windows client security, told TechEd delegates that users can expect to see improvements in the software's network security and anti-malware capabilities in the new release.

"The most interesting feature is [code named] Provable PC Health, and this allows you to remotely analyse the security state of the device and its integrity," he said.

"We can [use this to] warn the user...and help them get their device back into a secure state."

Windows 8.1 will be released as a preview later this month at the Microsoft Build conference, before going on general release before the end of the year.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.