Q&A: Microsoft Outlines Window 8.1 Improvements for the Enterprise

Microsoft's Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows and Windows Phone Commercial Marketing, took time out to explain some of the nuances of Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 for larger organizations.

News from Microsoft's Build developer conference is flying fast, but a Microsoft general manger took time out to explain some of the nuances for larger organizations.

Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows and Windows Phone Commercial Marketing, talked about the enterprise aspects surrounding the Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Phone 8.1 announcements in a Wednesday phone interview. Windows 8.1 Update is arriving via Windows Update on April 8. It can be tested now by MSDN and TechNet subscribers, but it has one dependency to install first, as described in this Microsoft Springboard blog post. Windows 8.1 Update images will be available in the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center for volume licensing customers on April 14.

Windows Phone 8.1 is due to roll out in the next few months. It'll arrive on new devices in approximately April or May.

Visser described the new enterprise sideloading rights for volume licensing customers that will be arriving in May. Enterprise sideloading is a way for organizations to add "Metro" apps to a device outside the usual Windows Store download process. It's possible to do that via the Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise editions, as described in a blog post by Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn on enterprise sideloading.

In addition, Microsoft created new "Enhanced Edition Rights" licensing this month for organizations using Software Assurance on Windows clients, allowing them access to use both Windows Enterprise and Windows Embedded Industry operating systems.

Lastly, the coming Windows Phone 8.1 release will include multiple enhancements for enterprise users. Those details and more are described in a blog post by Visser. However, he also added a bit more perspective below.

Redmond: Can you explain the new enterprise sideloading rights for Windows 8?
Visser: The easiest way for me to explain is [by outlining] the current situation and the new situation. The current situation is that all of the devices within an enterprise or a small business that run Windows Enterprise and are domain joined, are, by default, enabled for sideloading. For any other device, or any other Windows Pro device, for example, we did have an opportunity for customers to [upload apps] on the device with a key, and we approximately asked $30 for the key. So we are just removing barriers in the market for customers to deploy Modern apps within their infrastructure. So, [in May,] any domain-joined device is immediately enabled for sideloading. And for those non-domain-joined devices, any fully licensed customer can get keys free from Microsoft. And if you're not a fully licensed customer, you can buy unlimited keys from Microsoft for $100.

If an organization had a bring-your-own-device scenario and the devices were not domain joined, would they need Windows Server 2012 R2 to manage them?
No, that's not completely correct. For a non-domain [joined] device, you'd have to unlock the device through a key, but after that you can use your MDM [mobile device management] solution to deploy and manage the apps. It can be Windows Intune but it can also be a third-party MDM solution.

Volume licensing customers will now have the choice of Windows Enterprise or Windows Embedded Industry. What's the rationale behind that decision?
Think about the context of tablets and handheld devices. What we have seen is that there is a fading border between industry tablets and productivity tablets. Probably a retailer is an example of that border. If you think about the retail sales scenario and the devices carried within a retail store and how they service their customers. That's an area where customers would love to buy productivity tablets, like extended Windows tablets. But at the same time, in some of those scenarios, they'd like to run Windows [Embedded] Industry on those tablets because of the more advanced capabilities that Windows [Embedded] Industry has. So what we want to do is just remove the border for customers that have Software Assurance. So it doesn't matter if you've bought an industry tablet or a productivity tablet. The moment you cover those tablets under Software Assurance, you can install the Windows that's best for your scenario.

What about the compatibility improvements with Internet Explorer 11's Enterprise Mode? What if an organization has a Web site or Web apps built on earlier Internet Explorer technologies?
What the Enterprise Mode in IE [11] does is it allows enterprises to define certain Web sites, and these are mostly internal Web sites or Web apps, as being IE 8 compatible, and then have them rendered as IE 8 apps within IE 11. So, if you think about it, it allows customers to run IE 8 apps and IE 11 apps side by side. The problem we are trying to solve there is to make sure that customers can standardize on IE 11, which is the best managed, most secure, most enterprise friendly browser, but, at the same time, [they] still can run older IE 8 internal Web apps.

So if organizations had old Web apps based on IE 6, then they'd have to do a little remediation to get that going?
Yes, that's correct.

There was a Start Screen but no Start Menu in the Windows 8.1 Update. Was the return of a Start Menu a requested feature?
The thing I would put in context here is that with Windows 8, we made a huge step…. We brought together a touch-based UI as well as the Desktop [UI]. And when you make such a big release of Windows where you change the UI, you change the application platform and you integrate new hardware architectures, you get feedback. And with Windows 8.1 we wanted to make sure we addressed that feedback within a year. Think about Windows 8.1 Update as being another release where we just show progress on the vision of Windows 8 -- reacting to the feedback of our customers that we get around improving the mouse and keyboard experience. And when we have shown those improvements to enterprises -- and we have been talking to enterprise customers with these improvements for the last three months -- the feedback from customers has been great.

And there was no "Windows 9" talk at Build?
Well, we announced all of the things around Windows today, so we're not speculating at this moment on giving any more insight on the future of Windows.

On the Windows Phone 8.1 release, you now have VPN access, remote wipe and S/MIME e-mail encryption. Anything else for enterprises?
I can give you a little bit of context here. This is an area where, outside some of the innovative new UI aspects of Windows Phone, like Cortana that was demonstrated today and new UI features, this release is also very important for us to deliver enterprise capabilities around security and manageability. A number of them were demonstrated in the main session -- things like enterprise Wi-Fi, TPM [Trusted Platform Module] support,…S/MIME support for encryption, full enterprise enrollment, certificate management. We have early adoption programs out of Microsoft for our technology and this was one that got really oversubscribed when we started this with enterprises. And we have close to 400 of our large global customers now in early deployment programs for Windows Phone 8.1. And the feedback we have been getting from enterprises has really been great. Also today, we mentioned two new customers that are committed to roll out Windows Phone. BP has decided to roll out Windows Phone; also Kaiser bank in Spain -- this all based on the Windows Phone 8.1 features.

We saw a touch-optimized Office arrive on the iPad first before it arrived on Windows. Does that mark a change in direction for Microsoft?
No, there's no change in direction. If you followed Microsoft over the last month and also [Microsoft CEO] Satya [Nadella], we really talk about mobile first and cloud first. And that means a couple of things. It means we that we're focused, and continue to focus, on bringing the best devices to the market with Windows and with our partners. At the same time, we're also very focused in delivering cloud-based services that are cross platform. I thought Satya did a great summary earlier this morning where he said, 'Hey, we're all in Windows'….and he kind of showed that today with the kind of innovation we are bringing into the Windows platform, both on Windows Phone as well as Windows. And we are continuing to offer the broadest choice to our customers on the Windows platform. We got great feedback also on the work we are doing around the universal Windows apps: the ability for application developers to target Windows and literally have limited customization [work to do] for an app -- for a four-inch smartphone up to an 82-[inch] screen. And certainly, if you look at that in the context of an enterprise, we're unique in the ability to deliver a consistent and predictable environment with Windows across all of those form factors.

Did the keynote announcement represent the first time, with the Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Phone 8.1 announcements, that the "universal Windows concept" has gelled?
Yes, it's the first time that they've talked about it in this way. The work that we did for Windows Phone and Windows is really that we now have more than 90 percent of the APIs identical between Windows and Windows Phone. In the previous releases, there was already an opportunity for developers to leverage code between those platforms, but certainly not at the level of significance that we announced today.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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