Feeds

Windows 8.1: So it's, er, half-speed ahead for Microsoft's Plan A

A desktop failure gambling on slablet success

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

App platform changes

If Windows 8.1 is judged by its desktop features, it will have failed. Here at Build, it is clear that Microsoft's strategy remains centered on the Modern platform. You can say I suppose that this is now version 1.1 rather than 1.0, and it is considerably refined. In Windows 8.0 apps display in fixed sizes: full screen, or most of the screen, or a snapped view docked to the side. Windows 8.1 abandons the snapped view, allowing you to resize apps freely (but only horizontally). You can display up to four apps side by side per screen, if your screens are large enough. Apps can also support multiple monitors, displaying different views on each. With multiple windows and resizable windows, the Modern platform comes a little closer to the flexibility of the desktop.

Windows 8.1 tile resizing

Live Tiles now come in more sizes

The API for the Windows Runtime is considerably extended, including new controls such as Hub, Flyout, CommandBar, DatePicker and Hyperlink. A severe Z-order bug in the Web View has been fixed, raising a cheer from Build attendees. The DirectX API is extended.

Another key change is that apps downloaded from the Windows Store can now update automatically, subject to user control. The Store itself has a new look and easier navigation.

Internet Explorer 11

Delivered as part of Windows 8.1, Internet Explorer 11 supports WebGL, a standard previously opposed by Microsoft on security grounds, enabling hardware accelerated graphics in the browser without a plug-in. DRM support for web video means that sites like Netflix can also deliver content without a plug-in. There are still two browsers in Windows 8.1, one for the desktop and one for the Modern environment, with no integration between them, though they share the same rendering engine. Improved touch support in IE 11 means you can use awkward controls like hover menus. You can open up to 100 tabs per window, with tabs suspended when not in use for efficient use of memory and CPU.

Enterprise features

On the business side, Windows 8.1 packs in a range of new features, some of which depend on Server 2012 R2. Workplace Join gives IT administrators some control over devices accessing business resources without requiring full domain join.

Windows 8.1 Workplace join

Workplace Join is a middle ground between Domain Join and unmanaged devices

Work folders allow users to synch their user data to machines that are not domain joined, subject to certain policies, and this data can be remote wiped if necessary. There is built-in VPN support for several clients including CheckPoint and Sonicwall. All editions of Windows 8.1 (including consumer) now support device encryption.

Other features

An eye-catching addition to Windows 8.1 is integrated support for 3D printers. The effect is that applications will be able to support 3D printing directly, rather than users having to run a dedicated application for each printer.

SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, is now baked more deeply into Windows. Many settings are stored in SkyDrive and roam to other Windows 8 machines which use the same Microsoft account. There is an option to have the File Save dialog always default to SkyDrive. The Modern SkyDrive app now supports offline use, like the desktop version, and shares the same store.

A common Windows 8.0 complaint is that settings are split between the Desktop Control Panel and the Modern UI PC Settings. Microsoft has extended the latter, reducing the need to run Control Panel, though it is still not comprehensive.

Where next for Windows?

Step back from the Build activities and you can observe a disconnect between the content of the sessions, where the Modern platform dominates, and the real-world usage of Windows, where the desktop dominates. That disconnect cannot continue forever. There does not seem to be a plan B, and if Microsoft fails to establish the new platform it is unclear how Windows can progress.

In this context, Windows 8.1 is a smart move. It is a smoother experience for desktop users, which may win over users previously reluctant to move from Windows 7. The operating system as a whole feels more coherent; the dual personality remains, but does not get in the way to the same extent.

At the same time, Microsoft's commitment to the Modern platform does limit the appeal of Windows 8 for users who are content with Desktop apps. Another issue is that Windows 8.x devices will continue to be awkward and expensive hybrids, until the Modern platform is well enough supported that tablet-only usage is viable.

The future of Windows remains hard to predict, but 8.1 is a big improvement and makes the first release feel rough and ready in comparison. You can get Windows 8.1 Preview here, though note Microsoft's warning that this is not intended for general use and in most cases will require an eventual full reinstall. ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Inside the Hekaton: SQL Server 2014's database engine deconstructed
Nadella's database sqares the circle of cheap memory vs speed
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.