Windows 8 is only a year old, and already Microsoft has released Windows 8.1, an upgraded and fixed experience that takes inspiration from user criticism of Microsoft's great experiment. Unlike other versions of Windows, which often received large upgrades in the form of Service Packs within the first year, 8.1 represents a substantial and immediately noticeable set of changes. As Microsoft themselves put it, this upgrade is more than just a Service Pack.
So is it worth the trouble to upgrade to Windows 8.1? That largely depends on what your business does and how you use your computers. Ultimately, for many people the upgrade just won't be viable for business purposes until some of the bugs have been worked out. Even now, many people are reporting issues with some software and not all hardware manufacturers have finished updating the drivers for their products. To offset those risks, however, Windows 8.1 packs some great new features, add-ons, and fixes into the upgrade package. Here are our favorites.
Currently, sharing your screen with another computer, tablet, or projector can be a hassle of tangled cords, odd network setups, and questionable or expensive third-party applications. Microsoft hopes to solve this problem by strengthening support for Miracast technology in Windows 8.1. Miracast allows devices that support it to connect directly, over Wi-Fi Direct, without the need for a physical connection or another network. This makes screen streaming painless and quick, and can help businesses overcome the awkwardness of trouble-shooting projectors and connections during presentations and meetings. It can also make desktop and laptop support much easier, as your IT people will be able to have employees share their screen for troubleshooting and diagnosis.
Improved Biometric Support
Biometrics has been heralded as the answer to business security needs for quite a while now, though the promise has so far failed to live up to all the expectations. Windows 8.1 seeks to address this by making the biometric security process more integrated into the overall functioning of the operating system. This includes improvements like a single unified interface for many different types of biometric scanners, improved support for both newer scanners and older models, and a deeper layer of integration that allows you to better manage permissions and set security checkpoints at appropriate places. Taken together, these improvements can add up to much more peace of mind when your employees take their laptops on the road.
Increased VPN Support
Microsoft worked really hard on the Windows 8.1 update to try and woo business clients. One clear sign of this is the added support Microsoft added for VPNs, or virtual private networks. VPNs serve as shields, protecting your proprietary information from snoopers whenever you are on an open Wi-Fi connection, making them invaluable for employees who work remotely or are on the road a lot. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft has added automatic connection to preset VPNs whenever programs or apps that require them are opened. It also has support for a much wider array of VPN clients than Windows 8 did, and should make using these vital security tools much easier and more natural.
Remote Business Data Control
One of the most powerful new tools found in Windows 8.1 is the ability for companies to remotely control the data they place on mobile devices. With 8.1, Microsoft built in the ability for companies using their Exchange Mail Server to designate certain data on mobile devices as company data. This places an additional level of encryption on the data, which keeps it more secure. More than that, it allows your organization to remove or deny access to that data remotely. This simple addition makes Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies much more viable in the workplace, and allows your company to combat data leakage while still letting employees use personal laptops and tablets.