Microsoft Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview became available this week with new features that may entice organizations to test the new operating system.
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In addition, Microsoft reiterated that the lifecycle support for Windows 8.1 follows its existing conventions for product support.
Microsoft said it received a number of questions surrounding lifecycle support -- a standard practice of IT professionals considering deploying and testing Windows 8.1 in their organization.
"We always ask about support when we look at Microsoft [products]," said Brian Katz, a director at a large New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company. "It becomes [especially] important as people think about skipping a release versus how long they will be supported."
The lifecycle support is particularly important to corporations that make long-term commitments and keep their systems longer than consumers do, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, an IT consulting firm in San Jose, Calif.
After the general availability of the Windows 8.1 update, Windows 8 users will have two years to move to Windows 8.1 in order to remain supported under the Windows 8 lifecycle, Microsoft said in its blog post about the latest release.
Mainstream Windows 8 Enterprise support ends on Jan. 9, 2018, and extended support ends Jan. 10, 2023, according to Microsoft's Support Lifecycle homepage.
Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview features
Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview represents Microsoft's strategy to get corporate IT shops to upgrade. It includes a variety of features to encourage enterprise IT to test the new OS in their environments.
The new release includes features that weren't in Windows 8, such as a Windows To Go Creator tool, which allows IT to produce a bootable Windows 8 corporate USB drive for their environments. It also includes the ability to control the Start screen so businesses can have their own images and apps on the screen without worrying about end users customizing their own look and feel. In addition, the Windows 8.1 Preview enables end users to remotely access corporate networks without having to go through a virtual private network (VPN).
Previously announced Windows 8.1 features for businesses include open mobile device management, Workplace Join, remote business data wipe, assigned access for providing a single Windows Store application user experience, mobile broadband tethering, native Miracast wireless display and boot to desktop.
Workplace Join allows an IT administrator to give end users permission to access corporate resources using a device they choose, and remote business data wipe allows IT pros to remotely wipe an end user's business data from a device in a bring-your-own-device program while retaining personal data.
Other enterprise features in the Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview have carried over from previous versions of Windows, such as virtual desktop infrastructure and AppLocker for creating secure environments by controlling the files and applications users and departments can access on the corporate network.
Enterprise features in Windows 8.1 enable a group to move to the new OS if it wants to, Enderle said. But if end users are not excited about Windows 8, it will not be deployed, he noted.
"Users dictate what platform a company will move to," he said.
Windows 8.1 Preview fixes
Separately, Microsoft last week updated its Windows 8.1 Preview with a handful of non-security-related fixes.
The updates follow Microsoft's rapid release cadence, fixing bugs as needed in the Windows 8.1 Preview software instead of waiting for the monthly Patch Tuesday. In fact, this is the third update since the company began shipping Windows 8.1 Preview at the end of June.
The updates include a fix for service metadata packages that do not work properly for some network operators. This means the Wi-Fi tethering feature touted in Windows 8.1, which enables some devices to work as a Wi-Fi hotspot, will not operate properly.
Another update focuses on SkyDrive stability, while another centers on Internet Explorer 11. In this update, a webpage does not work correctly with a timer started by the VMScript code.
Other patches Microsoft previously released include fixes to the single sign-on for VPNs that use certificate authentication in Windows 8.1 Preview and a repeated offer update for a device that is not present in Windows 8.1 Preview or Windows RT 8.1 Preview. Microsoft has also enabled ListView contents to scroll smoothly and made improvements for SkyDrive's file search capabilities.
These new fixes come directly from Microsoft as part of the Windows 8 update service in Windows 8.1 Preview and Windows RT 8.1 Preview. However, the user must have this feature turned on.
Updates can quietly happen, and there is no official notice from Microsoft of these fixes. If automatic updates are turned on, end users can see what has been installed on their systems by viewing their update history.
On the other hand, optional updates or apps will not be automatically installed onto an end user's device without asking for permission or removing what is already on the system.
Microsoft is expected to release the RTM version of Windows 8.1 next month.