Modern Business in Mind: Windows 8.1 at TechEd 2013

TechEd North America is officially underway in New Orleans and we’ve had a great turnout of IT professionals, developers, analysts and press eager to hear about the latest versions of Microsoft’s platforms, servers and of course, Windows 8.1.

We built Windows 8 to bring the most powerful and modern computing experience to businesses and to help professionals stay connected to their colleagues and clients from anywhere, anytime. Windows 8.1 advances this vision and introduces new manageability, mobility, security, user experience and networking capabilities that will be available later this year. And our goal for Windows 8.1: offer customers the best business tablets and versatile, next generation business PCs driven by the most powerful operating system designed for modern businesses.

Windows 8.1: Driving Businesses Forward

During the TechEd keynote this morning, my colleague Iain McDonald, partner director of program management for Windows, talked through what businesses can look forward to in Windows 8.1, and I want to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite features that I believe will help you be more mobile and secure – including the tools for businesses to enable Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scenarios.

Networking features optimized for mobile productivity. Windows 8.1 improves mobile productivity for today’s workforce with new networking capabilities that take advantage of NFC-tagged and Wi-Fi connected devices, including:

  • NFC tap-to-pair printing – Tap your Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you’re all set to print. No more hunting on your network for the correct printer and no need to buy a special printer; just attach a NFC tag to your existing machines. And you don’t need to buy new printers to take advantage of this; you can simply put an NFC tag on your existing printers to enable this functionality.
  • Wi-Fi Direct printing – Connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers without adding additional drivers or software on your Windows 8.1 device, forming a peer-to-peer network between your device and the printer.
  • Native Miracast wireless display – Present your work wirelessly without any dongles needed; simply project your content to a Miracast-enabled device by pairing the device through Wi-Fi Direct using NFC. Miracast will then use the available Wi-Fi connection to let you lean back and project wire-free.
  • Broadband tethering – Turn your Windows 8.1 mobile broadband-enabled PC or tablet into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing other devices to connect and access the internet.
  • Auto-triggered VPN – When you select an app or resource that needs access through the inbox VPN – like a company’s intranet site – Windows 8.1 will automatically prompt you to sign in with one click. This feature will be available with Microsoft and third-party inbox VPN clients.

Security enhancements for device proliferation and mobility.Security continues to be a top priority for companies across the world, so we’re making sure we continue to invest resources to help you protect your corporate data, applications and devices:

  • Modern Access Controls – Sign in and authenticate devices with new support for fingerprint-based biometrics. Multi-factor authentication using Virtual Smart Cards will also be made even easier in Windows 8.1.
  • Malware Resistance –Windows Defender, Microsoft’s free antivirus solution in Windows 8, will include network behavior monitoring to help detect and stop the execution of known and unknown malware. Internet Explorer will scan binary extensions (e.g. ActiveX) using the antimalware solution before potentially harmful code is executed.

Improved management solutions to make BYOD a reality. As BYOD scenarios continue to grow in popularity among businesses, Windows 8.1 will make managing mobile devices even easier for IT Pros:

  • Improved IT controls – 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.
  • Remote business data removal – Allows personal devices to connect to, access and store company content that can be efficiently removed from the device by IT at a later date while leaving the personal data intact.
  • Open MDM – With Windows 8.1, new Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) capabilities are built into the OS and enable mobile device management using third-party MDM solutions, such as MobileIron or AirWatch, with no additional agent required. Enhanced policies allow administrators to manage more settings from both Windows Intune and the third-party MDM solutions for both Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1.
  • Workplace Join – Further control access to company data by ensuring that only registered and trusted devices are allowed to access secured enterprise data.

More control over business devices. Businesses can more effectively deliver an intended experience to their end users – whether that be employees or customers.

  • Assigned Access – Enable a single Windows Store application experience on the device (e.g. a learning application for a child, a customer service application at a boutique.) Enabling this feature turns on a predefined set of filters that blocks other actions so the user only experiences the specified application and is unable to access system files and other applications.
  • Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Our offering for Industry devices like POS Systems, ATMs, and Digital Signage that provides a broader set of device lockdown capabilities.

With the preview of Windows 8.1 coming soon, it’s important to talk about our deployment guidance to customers. Businesses that are still running Windows XP need to begin testing and migrating to a modern operating system – like Windows 7 or Windows 8 – as soon as possible before end of support occurs in April 2014. If you are currently deploying Windows 7, continue with those deployments, but start looking at the Windows 8 platform, particularly in business tablet scenarios. We also recommend businesses start targeting Windows 8.1 touch PCs for their hardware refresh planning as well as evaluate Windows 8.1 for all device form factors. And if you are already testing and deploying Windows 8, Windows 8.1 will be available later this year so you can begin your migration.

Attendees at TechEd are also getting to chat with NASCAR driver Alex Bowman of Robbie Benton Racing, who is using TRD U.S.A.’s (Toyota Racing Development) Windows 8 Trackside App to help prepare for his races in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. This app, along with Surface Pro devices, are used to give RAB Racing drivers and engineers access to instant race analytics and data. Check out this videowe shared earlier this year to learn more about the Windows 8 Trackside app.

And coming this summer…

On June 26, at the Build developer conference in San Francisco, Microsoft will release a public preview of Windows 8.1 for Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry. Upgrading to Windows 8.1 is simple as the update does not introduce any new hardware requirements and all existing Windows Store apps are compatible.

For a breakdown of other Microsoft products and services discussed in today’s keynote, be sure to watch the replay of today’s TechEd Keynote, and see what the Windows Server team is up to at their In the Cloud blog. And for more information on Windows 8.1 for the enterprise, click here.