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Microsoft touts business features of Windows 8.1

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TechEd Much of Microsoft's marketing push for Windows 8 has focused on consumers, but Redmond took time at its annual TechEd conference in New Orleans to explain that its forthcoming Windows 8.1 update will include lots of new enhancements for enterprises, as well.

For the first time, Microsoft confirmed that Windows 8.1 will indeed allow customers to configure their PCs to boot directly to the desktop, as has been rumored, but the update will also bring a variety of new features aimed at business users.

Many of these are designed to facilitate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment, such as the ability to print using Wi-Fi Direct, share the screen using Miracast, pair with printers using near field communication (NFC), and have Windows 8.1 devices act as Wi-Fi hotspots via built-in broadband tethering.

IT administrators will have finer-grained control over Windows 8.1 devices via Workplace Join, a new networking mode that allows admins to grant access to some corporate resources even when a device is not explicitly a member of a Windows domain.

Admins will also be able to manage Windows 8.1 devices using tools that support the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) spec, such as MobileIron or AirWatch, without installing an additional agent.

IT departments will be able to control the layout of the Windows 8.1 Start screen to ensure that apps are available and organized in a consistent way.

Users will be able to sync their files with their companies' data centers via data-syncing built into the file system, so that files created locally will automatically be replicated on the company's servers.

Windows 8.1 will bring a number of security enhancements, as well, such as auto-triggering VPN clients when users try to access resources that need them, including both Microsoft's own VPN client and those from third parties.

Biometric authentication is baked into the OS, so that users can authenticate with their fingerprints anywhere within Windows. The new biometrics code has been optimized for modern, capacitive fingerprint readers that are harder to fool with faked fingerprints.

The encryption that Microsoft included with Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 has now been extended to include all Windows 8.1 devices by default, and companies can add additional BitLocker encryption options on Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise devices.

Companies will be able to wipe data from devices remotely, provided the client and server applications support it.

Windows Defender, Windows 8's built-in anti-malware software, has also been updated to spot malicious apps via network behavior monitoring, and Internet Explorer 11 will scan ActiveX extensions before executing them.

More information about the new features and enhancements is available here and here.

A preview release of Windows 8.1 is expected to arrive on June 26, timed to coincide with Microsoft's annual Build developer conference, but no release date for the final version of the update has been announced. ®

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