Windows 8.1, the follow up to the flop that was Windows 8 has arrived after months of frustration for users. The initial release was part of Microsoft’s big effort to take on Apple and Google in the tablet market, but to the frustration of many Windows 8 spilled into the PC and server versions. The main complaints were the removal of the Start button, as well as the general feel of the OS, which was clearly designed for touch screens. The Start button issue has been addressed, along with the other complaints, in the release which was available last Thursday by download, and as a hard copy on Friday.
Gartner analyst Michael Silver called it “a significant improvement, more like what Microsoft would have liked to ship a year ago”. He also praised Microsoft’s willingness to listen to user feedback in their efforts to improve their flagship product. He added that 8.1 was Microsoft “clearly responding to the needs of enterprise users” which is a very positive thing to hear, considering how much business users felt ignored with the release of its predecessor.
Some of the improvements for business users are “more and better IT controls, security features and device management capabilities”, which were lacking from version 8 and made it a largely unappealing update to the competent Windows 7. As it happens, International Data Corporation (IDC) still recommends that businesses upgrade their PCs and servers to Windows 7 rather Windows 8, which is a reflection of the lack of fundamental change at the heart of Windows 8 and 8.1.
Despite the cosmetic overhaul, underneath Windows 8 is the skeleton of Windows 7, and it isn’t difficult to find evidence of this either. Simply changing between the new interface and the old style desktop shows this. Many in the industry have predicted that, like XP for so long, Windows 7 will now become the “gold standard” of enterprise IT operating systems, bar tablets and convertible PCs.
David Johnson, of Forrester Research, predicts that the Windows 8 family will be on a much more frequent release cycle, where new versions, such as 8.1 will be released on a regular basis. This can present a serious headache for IT managers if and when the older releases are no longer supported.
Johnson also predicted that new hardware from the likes of IBM, which should be much more “battery friendly”, will improve the picture for Windows and businesses. As well as improved hardware from Microsofts partners, the improvement of Windows’ own Surface tablets should benefit users greatly and make Windows 8 a much better product in general.