Windows 8 adoption has been sluggish, among both consumers and enterprises. The preview version of standard Windows 8.1 was released in June and includes several refinements with which Microsoft hopes to assuage Win 8 critics. These include a boot-to-desktop mode and a restored Start button, both of which are important in enterprise environments, where traditional PCs are still used more than tablets.
The Enterprise Preview includes a number of business-oriented features that aren't present in the standard Windows 8.1 preview. In a blog post, Microsoft highlighted seven "premium" features that differentiate the enterprise-oriented preview of Windows 8.1.
[ Find out how Microsoft is pursuing the enterprise cloud-market crown. See Windows Server 2012 R2 Widens Enterprise Cloud Gateway. ]
The Windows To Go Creator enables IT to create a manageable corporate Windows 8.1 desktop on a bootable external USB drive. Microsoft is pitching the feature as a potential BYOD-enabler that allows employees to securely access corporate data on personal machines.
Start Screen Control allows administrators to define how corporate-issued devices display the Live Tile layout on the Start screen.
DirectAccess allows users to remotely access documents on the corporate network without a separate VPN. It also enables admins to deploy policy and software updates.
BranchCache is aimed at employees in branch offices. By locally caching files, websites and other content from central servers on hosted cache servers or PCs, it eliminates the need to repeatedly re-download content across a WAN environment
Due to improvements in Windows Server 2012 and Microsoft's RemoteFX, the Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview also includes VDI enhancements that include better support for 3-D graphics and use of USB peripherals and touchscreens across any type of network.
AppLocker is intended to increase enterprise security by empowering IT to define which files and apps a user or group is allowed to run on a PC.
Finally, Windows Enterprise Side-Loading permits internal Windows apps to be side-loaded on domain-joined devices running Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
The blog post also noted that the Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview contains several business-aimed features previously revealed at Microsoft's TechEd Conference in June.
These include Assigned Access, which limits how corporate users experience the Windows Store; expanded support for third-party VPNs; Open Mobile Alliance Device Management capabilities, which allow MDM products from vendors such as MobileIron and AirWatch to be used without an additional agent; and additional capabilities that allow IT managers to control how sensitive data is accessed and to remotely wipe a device of corporate material without affecting an employee's personal content.
When Microsoft released the standard Windows 8.1 preview, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told InformationWeek that the update is a definite improvement over its underperforming predecessor.