Microsoft Tuesday released Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview, which adds a number of IT-friendly features for customizing the Start screen and managing access to files and remote networks.
Microsoft is making the upgrade mandatory for customers, tying the update to security patches and bug fixes. The final release will be available this fall, Microsoft said in a blog post.
"Windows 8 customers will have two years to move to Windows 8.1 after the General Availability of the Windows 8.1 update to continue to remain supported under Windows 8 lifecycle," wrote Erwin Visser, general manager of the Windows Commercial Business at Microsoft.
Windows 8.1 is welcome news to PC makers and VARs, which have complained that customers have balked at updating aging XP- and Vista-based systems because of a lack of interest Windows 8. "The jump to 8.0 was too much for our customers," said Kelly Ireland, founder and CEO of CB Technologies, a Westminster, Calif.-based HP partner. "The hope is Windows 8.1 would be a bit of a 'back to the future' to Windows 7 functionality."
The Enterprise Preview 8.1 release includes a number of new additions to help IT departments manage desktops including the much requested boot-to-desktop feature, which Microsoft says gives improved support for "users that prefer a mouse and keyboard experience."
Other Enterprise Preview enhancements include:
*Start Screen Control: Allows for customization and standardization of the Windows Start screen across a company.
*Windows To Go Creator: Allows admins to create a Windows 8.1 desktop that can be booted from an external USB drive.
*Windows Enterprise Side-Loading: A feature that allows companies to side-load apps onto "domain-joined" machines.
*DirectAccess: An end-user feature that allows "access resources inside a corporate network remotely without having to launch a separate VPN.”
Microsoft has a complete list of Windows 8.1 Enterprise features listed on its Windows TechNet website.
Windows 8.1 will use the same timeline for "extended" lifecycle support as Windows 8, putting the date at early 2023, according to Microsoft's blog post.
VARs have had a tough time with Windows 8 and in some cases have been busier replacing Windows 8 with Windows 7, instead of selling it.
Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview ISO images are available for download beginning on Tuesday in both 32- and 64-bit versions. According to Microsoft, the Enterprise Preview edition expires January 14, 2014, giving customers only four-and-half months to test the Enterprise Preview. Unlike previous preview editions of Windows, Microsoft said, there will be no upgrade path to the final version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
PUBLISHED JULY 30, 2013