It's a big day for IT folk the world over: Microsoft has just announced the release of Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview. Alright - I might have been a little sarcastic there, but for those who either have already or plan to deploy Windows 8 in the near-future, this preview is going to be worth checking out.
The enterprise edition of 8.1 bundles in all of the enhancements we discussed at length last month, which includes the much-improved Start Screen, a more accurate search, a Start button (but no Start Menu), a quicker way to shutdown / restart, the much-liked "Boot to Desktop" option and et cetera. To better cater this edition to the enterprise, however, a handful of other tools are tossed onto the pile:
- Windows To Go Creator: IT organizations can create a fully manageable corporate Windows 8.1 desktop on a bootable external USB drive. The drive can be used to support Bring Your Own Device scenarios or be given to contingent staff to access the corporate environment without compromising security.
- Start Screen Control: IT departments can now control the layout of the Start screen on company-issued devices to ensure key apps are easily accessible. IT departments can also prevent users from customizing their Start screen to ensure consistency across individual workgroups or the entire company.
- DirectAccess: Users can seamlessly access resources inside a corporate network remotely without having to launch a separate VPN. Also, IT administrators can keep remote users' PCs up-to-date by applying the latest policies and software updates.
- BranchCache: Employees in branch offices no longer need to download content multiple times across their Wide Area Network (WAN) as BranchCache caches files, websites and other content from central servers locally on hosted cache servers or PCs.
- Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI): Users will enjoy a rich desktop experience and the ability to play 3D graphics, use USB peripherals and use touch-enabled devices across any type of network (LAN or WAN) for VDI scenarios, thanks to enhancements in Microsoft RemoteFX and Windows Server 2012.
- AppLocker: IT organizations can create a more secure environment by restricting the files and apps that users or groups can run on a PC, increasing the security of the device and the data it holds.
- Windows Enterprise Side-Loading: Internal Windows apps can be side-loaded on domain-joined PCs and tablets running Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
Other niche features include Assigned Access (ability to restrict the device to a single Modern UI application), Inbox VPN clients, OpenMDM, workplace join and remote business data removal (once data is stored to a local server, it could be remotely deleted from the mobile device).
It's worth noting that those considering Windows 8 can feel rest-assured that Microsoft will be supporting it for some time to come; January 10, 2023, to be exact. Will the Start Menu return by then? We have a lot of time to speculate.