Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update cycle expected to burden IT

Microsoft made good on its Windows Blue initiative with a preview of the Windows 8.1 update, but some say faster updates will burden IT departments.

Microsoft's Windows Blue initiative to deliver updates on a faster cycle has come to fruition with a preview of the Windows 8.1 update this week. But Microsoft's promise to roll out Windows updates on a faster timeline may affect IT departments as they try to keep pace.

The new Windows 8 update cadence requires IT to keep up or skip one, two or even more updates, according to Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an IT consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash.

In any case, faster rollouts may put more demands on IT staffers, said Robert Koechig, director of technology at Innovative Print and Media Group in Phoenixville, Pa. "It's a commitment you have to make," he said. Koechig's company doesn't typically adopt the latest technology. Innovative Print's IT department doesn't want to put business requirements at risk by using the latest and greatest technology, he said.

But if IT cannot keep up with Microsoft's faster rollouts, it could cause a technology gap for businesses.

"Now all IT administrators have to mind the gap," Cherry said. "If releases are coming faster and you don't take them, the gap between you and Microsoft ... is going to get big fast."

However, a faster Windows 8.1 update schedule could be good because product improvements help users, and the updates could allow IT shops to secure their systems, according to one IT director.

"We have to be nimble, and the releases and updates to programs are very important," said Brett Amdor, vice president and director of IT at Dudnyk, a biotech and health care advertising firm in Horsham, Pa. "Speeding up the release time will encourage quicker deployments, as long as the quality of those updates does not suffer."

As Microsoft prepares to release Windows 8.1 later this year, large businesses have yet to upgrade their systems to Windows 8, according to Bob O'Donnell, an IDC analyst. "The few organizations that have deployed Windows 8 are more progressive, and they are going to adopt new technologies [at a faster pace]," O'Donnell said. "[However,] if they continue this longer-term, there could be challenges for IT organizations."

Windows 8.1 update features

Meanwhile, Microsoft made good on its Windows Blue initiative by previewing Windows 8.1 this week, with more discussion slated for next week's TechEd North America 2013 conference in New Orleans.

More on the Windows 8.1 update and OS features

Find and use the start menu in Windows 8

Some details on features expected in Windows Blue

How to find updated Windows 8 Task Manager features

Microsoft refines cloud features in SkyDrive

Windows 8 native tools expand on Windows 7 capabilities

Coming attractions in the Windows 8.1 update

Using AppLocker and app sideloading in Windows 8 Enterprise Edition

Microsoft issues Patch Tuesday fix for Windows 8

Among the software's updates are that it enables users to navigate to the Start screen by using the Windows logo; to add personalization features, such as more colors; and to group and rearrange tiles more easily. On the Internet and cloud side, Windows 8.1 now will include Internet Explorer 11, and the Bing Search engine will be able to perform user queries not only on the Web but also across files, apps and SkyDrive. In addition, users will be able to save documents directly to SkyDrive.

Microsoft, however, didn't add back in the piece that many users wanted back: the beloved Start button, which used to bring up the Start Menu. Not having this feature remains a sore point for many users and corporate enterprise customers who like the traditional look and feel of the Windows desktop. Instead, the button calls up either the classic desktop or app views.

Microsoft's decision to modify only this feature rather than back off on its stance to reintroduce the full Start button underscores its strategy to drive users to adopt the new look and feel of Windows 8, despite the disapproval from many long-time traditional Windows users.

But both the positive and negative reviews on Microsoft's own blog site show users' enthusiasm and disappointment. "The simple solution is to provide users with a choice -- Start Button+Menu or Start Screen," posted one commentator on the blog. "If you provided this at launch, Windows 8 would have sold very well and would never have been subject to harsh criticisms it has received."

Others noted that the hot button at the bottom corner that allows users to navigate to the Start screen is not enough. "The Start button's return will surely be appreciated by those of us who use remote desktop and virtual machines -- hitting hot corners in a window is a chore," another commentator on Microsoft's blog said.

On the other hand, some users had positive reactions to the new changes, especially the ability to run a "Snap view," in which users can see and resize multiple apps on the screen.

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