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Hey, Windows 8, who loves ya, baby? Not many, it seems. Microsoft claims the new OS is a blockbuster, of course, and has the numbers to (sort of) prove it.
Exhibit A: Microsoft Windows program manager (and longtime company veteran) Iain McDonald, speaking at the June 3 keynote presentation at TechEd 2013 in New Orleans:
"Now, we've had Windows 8 out for eight months so far. We've been getting lots of feedback. We've sold over 100 million copies, a few more than that, but we'll announce some numbers later this month. We've got over 70,000 apps in the store, and we know we've got hundreds of millions of downloads of those apps. And are we happy with it? Yeah, we're happy with it."
Exhibit B: Antoine Leblond, corporate VP of Windows Program Management, in a May 30 blog post.
"The response to Windows 8 has been substantial -- from new devices to strong app growth to key enhancements to the OS and apps. We've learned from customers on how they are using the product and have received a lot of feedback."
Replace "feedback" with "criticism" in both quotes, and you've got a more accurate take on the state of Windows 8. Adoption has been weak thus far, and studies have shown that consumers aren't thrilled with Windows 8's touch-oriented Modern UI and mobile-style apps.
It's no wonder that Microsoft is working feverishly on Windows 8.1, a soon-to-ship upgrade that addresses many Windows 8 gripes. Most notably, the desktop Start button -- but not the Start menu -- that was cruelly stripped from Windows 8 will be restored in version 8.1, albeit with some changes. And traditionalists who want to bypass the Modern UI entirely will have a boot-to-desktop option.
There's a lot more to Windows 8.1 than a few interface tweaks, however. Microsoft is adding numerous under-the-hood enhancements for its corporate customers, many of whom aren't thrilled with retraining costs associated with a Windows 8.x upgrade.
For Windows 8 and RT users, the Windows 8.1 upgrade will be free when it ships later this year. Microsoft is expected to release a preview version by the end of June.
Click through the slideshow to see 10 lesser-known features that may boost Windows 8.1's popularity, particularly in the enterprise. One unanswered question: How will longtime Windows users -- no doubt the fiercest critics of the Modern UI -- react to Windows 8.1's changes?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.
Whatever happened to the Near-Field Communication (NFC) revolution? Promising a cashless society where we'd pay for just about everything will a tap (or swipe) of our NFC-enabled mobile gadgets, the dream is just that. And that's despite the fact that companies increasingly see mobile commerce as an important component of their business strategies.
Of course, NFC offers a lot more than a new way to buy Frappuccinos at Starbucks. Windows 8.1 will showcase one intriguing NFC feature: tap-to-pair printing. Rather than trying to locate the correct printer on your work network, you'll simply tap a Windows 8.1 device against an NFC-ready enterprise printer and start printing, says Microsoft.
To enable this feature, you'll need to attach an NFC tag to your existing printers. Who knows, maybe printing will prove to be NFC's killer -- if kinda boring -- app.
Here's another wireless technology with a strong consumer slant. Miracast lets you stream video via Wi-Fi Direct from one device to another (e.g., from smartphone to HDTV). It means fewer wires and (theoretically) fewer hassles, and promises usability advantages over those messy HDMI and DisplayPort cables.
Obviously, Miracast has business uses too, such as sharing a laptop screen with a conference-room projector. You could pair two Miracast-enabled work devices and stream to your heart's content. Ideally, Windows 8.1's Miracast support would make life easier for Microsoft shops.
Here's a great idea that's long overdue, particularly for enterprises with cellular-equipped laptops. Windows 8.1 will support broadband tethering, which turns a PC or tablet into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The feature has potential cost savings for remote users, as a single Windows 8.1 laptop with a cellular connection could provide Internet access for multiple devices. Sure, smartphones have had hotspot capabilities for a while now, but it's good that Windows 8.1 will offer another wireless tethering option.
Biometric devices have been around for years, but many haven't delivered ironclad security. Many fingerprint readers, for instance, could be fooled by fake fingerprints, including those lifted via the infamous Gummy Bear hack. The technology's improving, however, and today's fingerprint readers use liveliness detection to check temperature, pulse, blood pressure, pores, perspiration and other traits of a living, breathing human. (So that gruesome, chopping-off-the-finger trick popular in movies probably won't work.)
What's this got to do with Windows 8.1? Well, the new OS will have improved biometric capabilities, including a common fingerprint login for different kinds of readers, including newer touch-based and older swipe-based models. You also can enable biometric authentication at various entry points, including Windows sign-in, remote access and User Access Control.
If you're sharing sensitive business communications via a public network, a virtual private network (VPN) is essential. Windows 8.1 and Windows RT will add support for a wider range of VPN clients, and apps will be able to launch VPN connections automatically. In addition, Windows will prompt you to sign in when you choose an app or resource that needs VPN access. Certainly, auto-triggered VPN is a nice addition. But will it boost the business appeal of Windows RT, which hasn't generated much interest from corporations, consumers or even Microsoft's OEMs?
Wi-Fi Direct allows two devices to connect without having to join a conventional office, hotspot or home wireless network. With new support for Wi-Fi Direct printing, Windows 8.1 devices can connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers and form a peer-to-peer network without adding additional drivers or software, says Microsoft. Given the large number of Wi-Fi Direct-certified printers out there, this seemingly ho-hum feature may prove useful.
Windows 8.1 promises tighter security for enterprise users. Its Windows Defender antivirus software will monitor network behavior to seek and stop malware. And the included Internet Explorer 11 will use Windows 8.1's anti-malware solution to scan ActiveX and other binary extensions. All editions of Windows will add device encryption (enabled by default) that was limited previously to Windows RT and Windows Phone 8. Users of Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise versions can also add BitLocker protection and other management capabilities. Another plus: Windows 8.1 consumer devices, when using a Microsoft account, are automatically encrypted and protected, says Microsoft.
Here's a nice one for the BYOD era: Windows 8.1 makes it easier for companies to mark which content on a user's device is theirs, and then wipe the data -- without touching any personal content -- when their business relationship with the user ends. An enterprise can identify corporate data, encrypt it and later wipe it using the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) or EAS + OMA-DM protocol.
This feature must be implemented in both the client and server application (Mail + Exchange Server). The client app decides whether to delete the corporate data or simply make it inaccessible. For Microsoft, this remote removal tool is a smart play that may boost today's weak demand for Windows-based tablets in the enterprise.
The new Assigned Access feature lets you run a single Windows Store application -- and nothing else -- on a Windows device. Schools may find this useful for running a single app (e.g., an exam) while denying students access to the Web browser and other tempting time-wasters. Similarly, a retail shop could use Assigned Access to run a customer service app. Windows Embedded 8.1 adds lockdown tools for industrial uses, including point-of-sale kiosks, ATMs and digital signs.
In addition to Miracast support, and NFC tap-to-pair and Wi-Fi Direct printing, Windows 8.1 adds other management tools that make sense in a bring-your-own device (BYOD) workplace. Workplace Join, for instance, allows users to work on their favorite devices and still access corporate resources. The Work Folders feature enables syncing from a user's folder in the enterprise data center to his or her device. And administrators can use an OMA-DM API agent to manage Windows 8.1 devices via mobile device management tools. These are just a few of the changes that make may boost Windows 8.1's appeal to Microsoft's huge corporate base.