Businesses may show cautious optimism for Windows 8.1

by Sohini Bagchi    Jun 21, 2013


When Windows 8 was launched nearly eight months ago, Microsoft received more flaks than praises from the business community that did not find any compelling reason to move to the new operating system. Its little wonder then that Microsoft worked ardently in the subsequent months to come up with its upgraded version - Windows 8.1 – to woo the enterprise. According to many, the soon-to-be available Windows 8.1 also codenamed “Windows Blue” is a more refreshed and enterprise ready version that can overpower the shortcomings of Windows 8.

Enterprise ready options

In the first place, the new Windows 8.1 as Microsoft announced at the TechEd North America Conference in New Orleans reintroduce some features deleted between Windows 7 and 8, most notably the desktop Start button the lack of which raised an alarm in the industry.

Some of the other key features of Windows 8.1 is that it has been designed to support cloud-based systems and connected devices. Tami Reller Windows chief finance and marketing officer explained in his statement that the new offering is equipped with enhanced security and mobility features, including BYOD enhancements. For example, the Workplace Join feature will allow IT administrators to control access to corporate data even when employees are using their own mobile gadgets. Similarly, Work Folders is another interesting feature that enables users to sync their device with a folder in a data center.

The new operating system also has direct printing facility with near-field communication (NFC) so the user does not need a network, while also permit peer-to-peer printing with Wi-Fi printers without installing drivers. Users can also turn a mobile broadband enabled PC into a provisional Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the security front, administrators can delete or encrypt corporate data from devices.“After Microsoft unveiled Windows 8, users complained about the lack of discoverability, help or cues for the new user experience, and many rejected Windows 8 because of the changes. We believe Windows 8.1 features could quiet most of its detractors,” says Michael Silver and Steve Kleynhans, vice presidents in Gartner’s client computing team.

On the flipside…

Analysts however expect only minor changes to the Windows desktop, which would ensure high levels of compatibility with legacy Win32 desktop applications. More compatibility issues will likely arise from moving from IE 8 to IE 11 than with Win32 applications that run on Windows 7. “Businesses will need to allocate time to test critical applications and understand vendor support policies. In the future, Windows will likely include more updates like 8.1, perhaps on an annual basis,” says Silver and Kleynhans.

Analyst firms like Forrester and IDC believes that although Windows 8.1 is expected to oust Windows 8, it may not revive PC sales that are mostly caused by the declining economy across the world. Agrees  Marie-Christine Pygott, senior analyst at Context  who mentions in a recent interview with The Channel: “We’ve not seen the desired effect from Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 might provide a lift in sales but it is no miracle cure to overall problems because the sales downturn is due to the economy.” 

Meanwhile Microsoft stated that it will come up with new sets of devices including tablets, laptops, and sometime this year alongside the launch of Windows 8.1. But Pygott mentions that price will be a key factor for Windows 8.1 success, unless Microsoft makes devices very affordable.

Finally, analysts believe with newer concepts BYOD and BYOA redefining the corporate IT landscape, and multiple players in the computing field, the “days of total domination is over.” As Richard Edwards, senior analyst at Ovum also points out that it will be tough to displace Android and iOS in the tablet space and attract corporate customers - many of whom are only migrating from XP to Windows 7.

Gartner further recommends that if businesses have to consider Windows 8 only for touch-based devices, they should evaluate Windows 8.1 for broader deployment for businesses that are engaged in early planning phases of Windows 8 projects, researchers suggest they should pilot on Windows 8, but switch to Windows 8.1 beta soon to use it for production deployments.