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Microsoft turns Windows 8.1 into wrapper for legacy apps

Significant benefit for businesses with investment in Win32 applications

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Microsoft is delivering a way to turn legacy Win32 business apps into modern touch apps that run on Windows 8.1, a feature it hopes will help prod businesses toward adopting the new operating system.

At the Microsoft Build 2014 conference Wednesday the company announced Windows 8.1 Update, the next version of the operating system that includes this aforementioned feature and several other new ones that should make Windows 8.1 an easier sell into corporate networks.

Windows 8.1 Update enables wrapping up older apps written for the Win32 application programming interface in a Windows Runtime interface the touch-centric look and feel of Windows 8.1.

One big drawback of Windows 8.1 for businesses has been the dearth of native business apps that are available for it. With this newly supported feature called Brokered Windows Runtime, both corporate developers and independent software vendors can use most of their old Win32 code. That makes writing Windows 8.1 versions of important business apps much less expensively, Microsoft says.

Businesses need to carry forward investments they've made in code," says David Treadwell, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Operating System Group.

These apps would be side-loaded onto Windows 8.1 devices, meaning they would not have to be bought at the Windows Store, the standard requirement for Windows 8.1 apps. Side-loading allows business customers to load their own apps on Windows 8.1 machines so long as they have Windows Enterprise licenses.

 As another lure for businesses, Microsoft is adding a new feature to Internet Explorer 11 (which is the browser that comes with Windows 8.1) so the browser can properly render legacy Web apps that were written for IE8. Called Enterprise Mode, this feature must be enabled by IT via a group policy and is not available on consumer versions of IE11.

In order to reduce end-user resistance to Windows 8.1 Microsoft is incorporating some popular and familiar Windows 7 mouse and keyboard features into Windows 8.1 Update.

This includes the ability to add icons for Modern Windows apps those written for Windows 8.1 to the taskbar at the bottom of the Windows 8.1 desktop. So users familiar with the desktop don't have to switch to the Windows 8.1 Start screen to find the app they want.

Instead, they click on the modern app icon and it appears full screen without a taskbar as it would normally look.

But it will have mouse-and-keyboard feature controls familiar to Windows 7 users. These include running the cursor to the top of the screen to reveal the title bar, and enabling closing or minimizing the app with a mouse click. It also includes mousing to the bottom of the screen to reveal the taskbar to select a different app.

While on the Start screen, which contains tiles that indicate applications or services, users can right click on a tile to reveal options such as increasing or reducing its size, pressing shift click to group together a set of tiles and, for example, reduce their size and place them together on the Start screen.

The Start screen also includes a power button so one click can turn off the machine without first drawing out the charms bar on the right, selecting settings, selecting power and choosing off.

"These small updates can make a great difference in how users perceive the user interface," says Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows commercial marketing.

Windows 8.1  Update is available April 8 via Windows Update or as a download from the Windows Store for current Windows 8 and 8.1 customers.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.


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