Windows 8.1 Update 1 was released on April 8, 2014. This update brings a number of features to update Windows 8, including finally, the ability to pin Metro applications to the Taskbar on the Desktop. Ironically, this is also the same day that Windows XP was officially retired by Microsoft. Clients have been moving with much haste to Windows 7, preferring to leave Windows 8 for later. This primarily has to do with the amount of change that Windows has undergone between Windows 7 and 8. For many customers familiarity and usability will be king in the corporate environment. In many ways, with Update 1 of Windows 8.1, that familiar usability and familiarity are coming back.
The next update, will bring a return of the old “Start” button. The new twist is this will be a mash-up of the new Start Screen, with items such as live tiles, and the old cascaded menu behaviour Windows 7 and XP users have grown to love.
But, for the moment, is it time to look at Windows 8.1 in the corporate environment? Yes. Most customers should be considering a plan to get them to Windows 8, if already on Windows 7, for sometime in the next 18 to 24 months. I recommend this time frame, as Windows 8.1 and future updates will be finally ready for the consistency that enterprise organizations need. This is not a make work project, since many of the newest devices coming out will need Windows 8 functionality to get the best performance out of them. Touch on Windows 7 is terrible in comparison.
Many organizations may opt for so-called “long-life” equipment from the big vendors. “Long-Life” equipment will push back the need for Windows 8 or Windows 9 or Windows X, for 5 to 6 years, however, this may cost them more in the end. We are at an inflection point in terms of human-machine interaction. Touch is just the first step to gesture control on the PC. For desktop users this will not be much of a selling point, however, gesture controlled applications such as mapping and interactive presentation systems will put pressure on IT departments to meet this need. It can be solved by special one off cases, however, this again increases the cost of supporting a platform such as Windows 7.
The good news is migration from Windows 7 to 8.1+ is much easier than it was with XP to 7. Applications and Drivers should be mostly compatible, and the real planning should be in helping users with new features as when to use the new Start screen, or implementing features like Bitlocker. Choosing to stay on Windows 7 for the long-term? You have until January 14, 2020 to worry about the same status as XP, but keep in mind mainstream support is coming to an end in January 2015 for Windows 7 and you will need to pay Microsoft for support requests.
As Windows 8.1 continues to mature, it will leave behind the “Vista” status that Windows 8 had. Windows 8.1 with Update 1 really does feel more like Windows 9 than Windows 8.
Do not forget, Windows Server 2012R2 just got the update as well. This update though not as publicized this update includes Active directory updates to better support Office 365 deployments.