Technology Brief: Windows 8.1

On October 17, 2013, Microsoft released Windows 8.1, the first significant update to Windows 8 since its debut in October 2012. Many hardware manufacturers (including Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft) are releasing products coinciding with this update's arrival.

Information Systems & Computing (ISC) and other groups across campus have tested Windows 8.1 and found that it works as expected with many Penn applications and services, including systems and services, including AirPennNet, Exchange, Penn+Box, and Zimbra. Some supported applications (including Symantec Endpoint Protection) require an update to be compatible with Windows 8.1 (SEP 12.1.4 is compatible and available for download).

ISC recommendation

ISC will support Windows 8.1 for its clients, including off-campus students, on systems that ship with Windows 8.1 pre-installed. ISC strongly recommends that all other University users considering an upgrade to Windows 8.1 adopt a "wait and see" approach, continuing to use earlier supported versions of Windows (i.e., Windows 8 RTM, Windows 7 SP1, and Windows Vista SP2) for at least a week until the initial bugs and compatibility issues in Windows 8.1 are identified and fixed.

Changes

Windows 8.1 includes improvements and extensions to search, additional flexibility in the Start screen display, and better multi-monitor support in the Modern interface. Depending on screen resolution, up to four apps can now be viewed at once - and there's more flexibility for individual app window size. It is now possible to boot to the classic Windows desktop instead of the Start screen. Finally, the Start button has returned to the classic Windows desktop, though its functionality is still not the same as it was in Windows 7.

Many of the included Modern apps have been updated significantly, including Mail, Bing, and Windows Store. New apps include Calculator, Sound Recorder, and Alarm Clock. Internet Explorer also revises to version 11 and includes better tab support and the ability to make individual web sites into live tiles, but is likely or certain not to function with BEN Financials, Oracle EPM/Hyperion, OASIS, Business Objects/Webi, or Health System applications.

Windows RT 8.1 includes many of the same changes present in Windows 8.1, but optimizes these changes for ARM-based tablets such as Microsoft's Surface RT and the upcoming Surface 2. A major change is the availability of a version of Outlook (Outlook RT) for these systems.

Analysis

Arguably, Windows 8 marked the biggest change to the user-facing portions of Windows since Windows 95, and Windows 8.1 continues in this vein with some optimizations and changes. Windows 8.1 (code-named "Blue") is most easily compared to August 2004's Windows XP Service Pack 2, in that it is a free update that both patches bugs and makes notable functionality changes. For comparison, recent Microsoft Service Packs for Windows Vista and Windows 7 have not added significant functionality.

Windows 8.1 also marks the first real sign of Microsoft's ability to more quickly revise its Windows operating systems. Microsoft has sharply reduced the time period between significant changes in the operating system, adopting a cycle far closer to Apple's OS X. ISC believes that most Windows 8 users at the University will move to Windows 8.1 sometime later in FY2014.

For further information

Microsoft's Windows page.

Microsoft's Windows blog.

-- John Mulhern III, Lead for Client Technologies, ISC Technology Support Services (October 17, 2013 updated on November 19, 2013)

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Date Posted: July 9, 2013 Tags: Supported Product, OS, Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8, New and Noteworthy

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