"In general, Windows 8.1 is a much better target for migration than Windows 8," said Helm, echoing other analysts who have said the same. "We've been recommending Windows 8.1 as the alternative to Windows 7 to clients getting off Windows XP."
Helm cited Windows 8.1's new enterprise-oriented features for that recommendation, including "workplace join," which will allow trusted devices to access secured data on a company's network, and mobile management additions such as limiting access to a single "Modern," ne "Metro," app.
"The renewed focus on mobile management will make it much easier for enterprises to handle BYOD," Helm added, referring to the "bring your own device" trend where businesses support workers' choice of hardware.
Also a big plus in Helm's book was Microsoft's renouncing its stubborn insistence that it knew what customers wanted. "Just the overall fact that Microsoft took the time to understand what enterprises needed, and delivered on those features, which we really could have liked to see in the initial release," has been encouraging, said Helm.
The enforced upgrade to Windows 8.1 is the strongest signal yet that Microsoft will offer future versions in the Windows 8 line — Windows 8.2, for instance, or even 8.3 — free of charge, just as it has service packs in the past. Deviating from free without also eliminating the upgrade requirement for continued support would likely trigger a revolt by customers, or at least a hue-and-cry that Microsoft would find hard to silence.
When Microsoft first announced it would speed up Windows releases, many experts assumed that the company would dispense free Windows 8 upgrades for several years running before launching an entirely new edition, perhaps titled Windows 9, that would come with a price tag.
Microsoft has not yet set a ship date for Windows 8.1, or as Visser put it, the version's General Availability. When it does, the 24-month clock will start ticking: An October launch of Windows 8.1, for example, means customers will have until October 2015 to finish their upgrades.
Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview can be downloaded from Microsoft's website. The sneak peak will expire Jan. 14, 2014.
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