For businesses, meanwhile, Windows 8.1 addresses a different concern: Preserving goodwill among all the users who'd be happy to just keep using Windows 7, or even Windows XP.
The reinstated Start button and boot-to-desktop option could appease some of these disillusioned users, and many IT admins will value the extra tools and functions that are now on display in the Enterprise Preview. Still, Windows 8.1's enterprise prospects are uncertain.
For one thing, around 150 million business users still rely on Windows XP, which is scheduled to lose support in less than a year. For Microsoft, getting all of these customers to update in time could be a challenge. And even if the company succeeds, most businesses are turning to Windows 7, potentially leaving Win8's Modern UI without a strong business foothold.
Moreover, even if businesses upgrade to Windows 8.1, the future of the Modern UI could still be in doubt. For certain tasks, Windows 8 currently forces users to jump between the Modern UI and the desktop. Microsoft has promised, however, that the update will allow users to operate solely within the desktop or the Modern UI, without any reliance on the other interface. With the boot-to-desktop option added to the mix, this means users can essentially seal off the Live Tiles, turning Windows 8.1 into an updated version of Windows 7 -- albeit one whose Start button doesn't lead to a Start Menu.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's goals demand that the Modern UI become more popular, so the company is no doubt cognizant of the chance that Live Tiles could languish even if enterprises start adopting Windows 8.1. Windows software will remain a fixture in the enterprise for years to come -- but if most of that software is of the "legacy" variety, Microsoft will face serious trouble.
Then again, if Windows 8.1 helps the company attract increased developer enthusiasm, the Windows Store could soon feature not only an exciting variety of consumer apps, but also more line-of-business and productivity titles, which could entice more businesses to give the Live Tiles a chance.