announced on Wednesday that its 8.1 update for Windows will start rolling out on April 8. The new version includes features targeted at enterprises, plus some designed with consumers in mind.
Windows 8.1 was released in October. The update becomes available Thursday for MSDN subscribers, and, starting April 8, for Windows 8.1 and RT 8.1 users through the Windows Update service and for others through Windows Store.
With mobile devices assuming such a large role in a company's planning, mobile device management has become a key concern for many IT departments. The 8.1 update offers some additional MDM controls, such as the ability to set app whitelists or blacklists through the Windows store, create filters for Web sites, and utilize Enterprise Mode in the updated Internet Explorer browser.
Enterprise Mode allows Web sites and Web apps that had been built for IE 8 to run in the current IE 11, so that older devices running 8 and newer ones running 11 can run some of the same apps.
IE 11 will now detect the Windows device on which it is running and whether it has a touchscreen or a mouse/keyboard, and then adapt its presentation accordingly.
Improvements in the user interface include ones intended to appeal to the many people inside and outside of businesses who still use keyboards and mice. For instance, minimize and close windows functions now reside at the top of a screen, and taskbar at the bottom.
Power and Search buttons will now appear in the upper right corner of the Start screen on some devices, next to one's account picture. This enables a quick shutdown, or a search from the Start screen. Additionally, selected devices will now boot directly to desktop as a default setting.
On the taskbar, desktop apps, apps from the Windows Store and favorite Web sites can be pinned to the taskbar, so app switching can be done from the desktop. The taskbar also shows up on any screen by moving a mouse to screen bottom.
'A Full Retreat'
Right-clicking on a tile for an app on the desktop will bring up a context menu with such choices as unpin from Start, pin to taskbar, or change tile size. Windows Store is now pinned to the taskbar, although it can be unpinned if the user desires.
The 8.1 update may also result in cheaper Windows devices. The company said that 8.1 update can run on devices with as little as 1GB of memory and 16 GB of storage "without sacrificing performance."
Michael Silver, vice present at industry research firm Gartner , told us the 8.1 update is an example "of what Windows 8 should have been in the first place."
He noted that it took "a year and a half" for the company to begin fully acknowledging the large number of users still employing a keyboard and mouse. The question going forward, Silver said, is whether the Windows 8 brand has "so much negative brand equity" that the company won't recover until it goes to Windows 9.
Pund-IT's Charles King echoed a similar sentiment. He said that "probably the biggest point of Windows 8 is it represents a full retreat by Microsoft from the idea that the Windows 8 interface would offer something entirely new."