10 factors to consider when upgrading to Windows 8.1

While 8.1 is not a completely new operating system, it is a significant upgrade, and shouldn't be viewed simply as a service pack.

By David Chew

PC users have traditionally relied upon an iOS or Android companion device to reap the productivity benefits of BYOD, but the touch-enabled interface enabled by Windows 8 eliminates the numerous challenges of this approach.

For more information about Windows 8.1, check out the TechRepublic Fact sheet.

With the Windows 8.1 update scheduled for general availability in mere months, it's important to understand what to expect from the new system. Windows 8.1 provides enterprise-level upgrades that give users a consistent computing experience across devices, but it may require infrastructure upgrades to experience the full benefits of the platform.

A significant upgrade

While 8.1 is not a completely new operating system, it is a significant upgrade, and shouldn't be viewed simply as a service pack.

Below is a list of 10 ways that Windows 8.1 can benefit the enterprise:

  1. Extended Mobility: While most companies have a mobile strategy in place for certain segments of the business, concerns over bandwidth of IT, technical support, device management, and other issues often prevent them from expanding to provide mobility to more of the workforce Windows 8.1 eliminates much of that trepidation, enabling organizations to extend the productivity benefits of mobility to a wider range of employees. It's a more universal management experience for IT as well, because they can manage Windows 8.1 PCs as mobile devices without having to deploy a full management client.
  2. Tablet Adoption: The proliferation of Windows 8-enabled hardware means that enterprises can standardize on the operating system, but still allow individual end-users to select their device of preference and have a consistent interface across these devices. While this includes desktops, laptops, and Windows phones, the tablet is becoming a more versatile and popular device in the enterprise. Windows 8.1 is able to support this wider adoption of tablets.
  3. Application Innovation: Windows 8.1 enables organizations to develop applications that can work seamlessly across mobile and traditional devices. This is a particularly critical benefit for the many developers with deep expertise in the Windows operating system who previously have been unable to apply their skills fully to mobile applications. The Windows Store has a redesigned interface and now includes more than 100,000 modern apps, giving users either on a tablet or a PC a more fluid, unified experience.
  4. IT Support: Having to troubleshoot different devices and platforms has turned out to be one of the chief support headaches for IT staff. I'll enumerate some of these frustrations in greater detail below, but standardizing on Windows 8.1 allows IT to become much more streamlined in its support and reduce a significant amount of the complexity associated with enterprise mobility. Enterprises that are not standardizing and forcing IT to stretch to support many iterations of the Windows OS are severely straining resources.
  5. Cost Reduction: Standardizing on Windows 8.1 eliminates the licensing and support costs of a heterogeneous environment. In addition, the costs associated with application development, support, and maintenance are reduced because everything is centered on a single operating system. For example, the new Workplace Join feature (some features require SCCM 2012 R2, DAC and PKI) would allow a user to work on the device of his or her choice, but still have access to corporate resources. Workplace Join also gives IT greater security control in a BYOD environment.
  6. Resource Optimization: Because Windows 8.1 facilitates restoration of the operating system to factory settings, enterprises can save the time and money associated with sending IT personnel to redeploy technologies when something goes awry. This feature can result in significant savings for enterprises that support thousands of users and would be of significant benefit for remote workers.
  7. Streamlined Operations: An ancillary resource benefit of Windows 8.1 is that IT departments need to create only one user guide and any other support materials for every application developed. Again, this might not seem like a significant saving at the outset, but when you consider the impact for an enterprise supporting thousands of users the benefit quickly becomes apparent. As with the 8.1 service pack for Windows 8 future service packs are expected to provide new features not just fixes. These feature updates have the potential to drive training and support document updates with greater frequency.
  8. Reduced End-User Confusion: By offering a consistent computing experience across devices, Windows 8 significantly reduces user confusion and related support requests, freeing IT staff to focus on more strategic projects or other revenue-generating activities. When a user enrolls a device, it joins the device to the Windows Intune management service (one of the new technologies that requires current infrastructure). The user gets access to the Company Portal, which provides a consistent experience for access to the applications, data, and device settings. The self-help portal within the service desk allows end-users to troubleshoot on their own.
  9. Enhanced Security: Windows 8.1 offers a number of security enhancements, including Remote Business Data Removal and enhanced Internet Explorer. Remote Business Data Removal gives enterprises greater control over encrypted content that can be wiped when it is no longer needed. In addition to greater speed and customized app settings, Internet Explorer now enables an anti-malware solution to scan binary extensions to help stop the execution of known and unknown malware.
  10. Partner Education: Because Microsoft will no longer maintain Windows XP after April 2014, any organization considering an upgrade should weigh the advantages of Windows 8.1. The platform offers a range of benefits and solutions to solve manageability, mobility, and security challenges. A technology partner expert in Windows 8.1 can help organizations educate themselves about the new version, determine how it fits into their existing infrastructure and execute the appropriate migration plans.

By David Chew, Solutions Architect, Unisys

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