Whether or not Windows 8.1 will be popular among enterprises is yet to be seen. One thing is certain, Microsoft's latest desktop operating system includes some new technologies that can help take some pain out of the bring your own device chaos. These Windows 8.1 features have impeccable timing, given the struggles that many organizations are having at the dawn of the mobile device era.
Windows 8.1 includes many improvements for mobile security and management. First, Workplace Join allows users to connect their own computers to the network without fully joining the enterprise domain. Yet IT is still able to control what users can and cannot do when connected. It's sort of a middle ground between domain-connected systems and standalone systems.
Second, a new feature called Work Folders will let users sync files between their mobile devices and the enterprise network while having access to local copies when they're offline. Windows Server 2012 R2 will be required, but this SkyDrive-ish technology is built right into the OS -- a nice leap ahead in Microsoft's lackluster attempts at offline files over the years. It's a neat feature, as long as you don't mind your files floating across the Internet.
The case for Windows 8.1 BYOD support
With System Center Configuration Manager 2012 R2 and the cloud-based Windows Intune, newly enrolled Windows devices can fall under mobile device management (MDM) by accessing enterprise mobile apps, policy deployment and management, and asset and compliance reporting. This is another twist on Microsoft's bring your own device (BYOD) focus.
Perhaps one of the biggest selling points for executives and sales professionals using Windows 8.1 is that they can print wirelessly via near-field communication. They can also use Wi-Fi Direct-enabled printers without the hassles of finding network printers and installing drivers.
More on Windows 8 features and BYOD
Should users be retrained for Window 8 features or wait for Windows 8.1?
Five new security features in Windows 8.1
FAQ: Microsoft licensing, BYOD, Windows 8 and the cloud
Some Windows 8 features are worth another look
Windows 8 could cut BYOD costs with the companion subscription license
The last big Windows 8.1 update is Open MDM, which provides an application programming interface that allows third-party MDM vendors such as AirWatch and Fiberlink to provide Windows 8.1 integration.
I don't believe you should move to the new OS just because of these Windows 8.1 BYOD improvements. However, if your organization is inching toward a Windows 8.1 migration, this is a good feature set that can help you justify your choice to business management. Ultimately, services built into the endpoint operating system can provide an ideal long-term solution for security management, especially where it's needed in the case of BYOD.
Microsoft's Windows 8.1 mobile controls may not be as good as what you can get through third-party software and services, but they're built in and free, so why not try them?
We have to face the reality that mobile computers are the new desktops. Regardless of whether we like it -- or even believe it -- BYOD is not going away, even if mandated by security policy. Workers are going to use their preferred devices anyway, so you might as well find some ways to satisfy their business needs and ensure that IT retains some control and visibility.
Whether you have a traditional workstation environment or intend to jump ahead and roll out the latest Surface 2 RT or Surface Pro 2 devices, Windows 8.1 really does bring a lot to the table. Try to put any Windows 8 stereotypes aside and check out what it can do for you. Sure, Microsoft is (yet again) a bit late to the game with BYOD support, but better late than never.
This was first published in October 2013