The upcoming refresh of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system is now available as an Enterprise Preview, containing several new features and improvements that Redmond hopes will entice corporates into upgrading their desktop and laptop fleets.
A full evaluation version of 32 and 64-bit Windows 8.1 Enterprise is available to download in multiple languages support from Microsoft's TechNet.
The preview expires on January 14 next year and cannot be licensed to a full version; user data will be kept, but a full reinstallation of the operating system is required after expiry.
Microsoft has made several changes to the controversial Metro user interface in version 8.1, including the ability to boot directly to the desktop, and improvements for keyboard and mouse users. Metro apps now also work in portrait mode, for tablets and touch devices.
For enterprise customers, there are several security enhancements to consider, including better biometrics authentication to foil spoofed silicon emulated fingerprints, and federation of identity through to WIndows Store Apps.
Business data can now be marked as corporate and be encrypted — and should employees or users leave the organisation, it can be remotely wiped or made inaccessible.
Other security features in 8.1 include pervasive device encryption, device lockdown, and improved malware resistance. Internet Explorer 11 now also allows for anti-malware scanning file inputs before they're executed.
Mobility is a major focus in the 8.1 release of Windows with new features aimed at corporate BYOD users.
Workplace Join in 8.1 allows administrators to provide fine-grained access to corporate resources with registered devices, unlike previous versions of Windows which use an all or nothing approach with domain joins.
Work Folders (which natively integrate with the Windows file system for syncing data between user folders on devices and corporate data centres) is designed to operate with Workplace Joins and dynamic access control policies, and also allows access of information from other devices.
Mobile Device Management has been overhauled in 8.1 with support for Open Mobile Device Management agents and products, as well as easier, client-less integration with Microsoft's Intune management service.
As part of the mobility improvements, Windows 8.1 now supports a wider range of virtual private networking (VPN) clients than before, and these can be automatically triggered by applications.
Microsoft's Windows To Go technology, which allows corporations to build images of the operating system and load them on USB memory sticks to securely boot Windows 8.1 on other PCs, now provides access to Windows Store by default.
On the wireless networking side, Windows 8.1 features near-field communication (NFC) tap-to-print support, wi-fi direct printing and Miracast display (also through NFC and wi-fi).