New Windows 8.1 Networking Features Outlined

Windows 8.1 will be available as a preview version at the start of Microsoft's Build developer event on June 26. Microsoft plans to release a Windows 8.1 product sometime this year. The update will extend to Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry operating systems.

The company has already disclosed that Windows 8.1 will bring back the start button, of sorts, as well as enable users to boot directly to the Desktop user interface, which were some of the features requested by Windows 8 users. The latest details about Windows 8.1, described during the Day 1 keynote address at TechEd, included a number of new networking, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and security features.

Networking Features
One of the new networking features in Windows 8.1 is a near-field communications (NFC) printer setup capability. Ian McDonald, partner director for the Windows Core Group at Microsoft, attempted to demonstrate how this capability works. He described using a Wi-Fi-enabled printer that was connected to a NFC reader. When a mobile device running Windows 8.1 is placed in proximity to the Wi-Fi-enabled printer, it takes a little time for the setup to take place. Unfortunately, this demo failed, and the file never did print, but it was a neat idea.

Windows 8.1 can also establish connections to "Wi-Fi Direct" printers. This capability doesn't require adding software drivers to the mobile device, according to Erwin Visser, Microsoft's general manager for Windows commercial marketing, in a blog post. Wi-Fi Direct is a connection technology certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance that can establish connections between two devices or between multiple devices.

Windows 8.1 device users will be able to project their device's content wirelessly using Miracast technology to any other device, provided that the other device also supports Miracast technology. As with Wi-Fi Direct, Miracast is Wi-Fi Alliance-certified technology. McDonald said that Miracast is "great PowerPoint technology," adding that "Miracast is not something you want to use to always connect to your office but it's great for a conference room."

Users of Windows 8.1 can turn their device into a Wi-Fi hotspot with a new "broadband tethering" feature. McDonald explained that the United States typically has cheap Wi-Fi and people sometimes want to use mobile broadband to connect. This broadband tethering feature will support up to 10 devices, but it will run a little slow with nine connections, he added.

Windows 8.1 has a feature that will make connecting to corporate virtual private networks (VPNs) easier. This "auto-triggered VPN" capability "will be available with Microsoft and third-party inbox VPN clients," according to Visser's blog post. According to that post, users get prompted to sign on to the VPN when they click an application requiring such a connection.

BYOD Features
IT pros get some controls over BYOD scenarios with Windows 8.1.

Microsoft has already talked about the ability of IT pros to set Windows 8.1 devices to boot to any screen. They can also configure the layout of the start screen and prevent users from customizing it. Users can be given "assigned access" by IT pros, which just permits access to some specified applications, if wanted.

Windows 8.1 lets IT pros provide access to corporate content, as well as the ability to wipe that content from devices, without altering personal user data, according to Visser. The use of a "workplace join" feature adds a security safeguard that ensures that only registered devices can connect to a company's data.

Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 both support the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management standard. That support will enable IT pros to use third-party applications to manage mobile devices. Examples described by Visser include AirWatch and MobileIron, as well as Microsoft's own Window Intune cloud-based PC management service.

Security Features
The Windows Defender antimalware solution built into Windows 8.1 has a new "network behavior monitoring" capability to block potential malware attacks. In addition, Internet Explorer 11 in Windows 8.1 will scan "binary extensions," such as ActiveX, to protect against malicious code execution.

Microsoft added support for biometric authentication, such as fingerprint verification, with Windows 8.1. In addition, the use of virtual smart cards is made easier, according to Microsoft, for multifactor authentication.

McDonald also showed off some new Windows 8 tablets and laptops, including a couple with large screens (20-inch and 25-inch screens). He also held up "the world's first" 8.1-inch-screen Windows 8 tablet, an Icona W3 tablet running an Atom chip.

The idea that PC vendors would start releasing various-sized Windows 8 machines was discussed by Microsoft back in April. Peter Klein, Microsoft's outgoing chief financial officer, had pointed to new and smaller devices that would arrive using the latest Intel processors, when available.

About the Author

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

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