What’s in Windows 8.1 Update 1, and When Will It Be Ready?

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Anti-Win8logo-smallThe Windows 8.1 Update 1 might be released in April instead of March, according to a report published on Tuesday, a couple of days after the leak of a beta build showing changes in the update that would benefit users accustomed to the traditional, non-”Modern” PC environment. Meanwhile, it’s also conceivable that the performance of Microsoft’s built-in Defender anti-malware software will improve by then.

According to a report by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft now expects to release Update 1 on April 8 rather than the originally planned March 11, possibly because the earlier timetable was too ambitious.

Like March 11, April 8 is a “Patch Tuesday.”  The release of Update 1 on April 8 would also make sense in that this date comes right after Microsoft’s Build developers conference in early April, where Microsoft is expected to talk up the update.

For her part, Foley also dismissed speculation that Update 1 will alter the start-up experience so that the desktop screen — as opposed to the Modern Start screen — would become the default fault-up screen.

However, those who downloaded the leaked build did see evidence of other previously rumored features. These include a new icon in the upper-left corner of Modern apps for splitting, minimizing, or closing the app; Power Down and Search tiles at the top right of the Modern screen; right-click contextual menus for tiles; and the ability to put icons for Windows Store apps on the desktop’s taskbar.

Windows_Defender_icon2Better Anti-Malware Security, Too?

Meanwhile, also this week, a Microsoft spokesperson revealed that, in an update in December, Microsoft added better analysis capabilities to the cloud-enabled Provable PC Health (PPHC), one of two components of new anti-malware technology introduced in Windows 8.1. PPHC is designed to work with a new behavior monitoring capability in Windows’ built-in Defender anti-virus software.

Microsoft is also “continuing to enhance the analysis notification services” in PPHC, the spokesperson said, in an email to TabletPCReview, a sister publication to NotebookReview. She gave no indication, though, as to when and how these services will be enhanced, or whether they might appear in Update 1.

Meanwhile, in tests conducted in November and December, Microsoft’s built-in Defender software continued to finish dead last against 24 third-party vendors in “real world protection” — or protection against new and unknown malware — and to finish somewhat below average in detecting the sorts of known malware that are already included in virus databases.

The new behavior monitoring capability is aimed at “detecting polymorphic and repackaged malware families based on familiar patterns of malicious behavior on the device,” the spokesperson said.

“Our end user goal of PPCH, as with Windows Defender, is to protect our customers with little or no user interaction and to leverage existing user workflows,” she added. “Therefore PPCH doesn’t include new user experiences and notification mechanisms. We leverage the existing infrastructure and enable them to surface new notifications and actions. For example, if an active keylogger were found and removed from the user’s PC, the notification would be presented to the user in the Action Center. In addition, the cloud could initiate an account remediation action like a password reset since the MSA would be at risk. If a more serious malware infection was detected by our cloud Service, we will send immediate signatures to the client which could also trigger a user notification for advanced remediation action. The protection enhancements are designed to be seamless with the current user’s experiences.”

Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-Test, conjectured that improvements to Microsoft’s anti-malware capabilities might show up with Update 1.

“We used the latest RC version, the RTM version and a fully-updated Windows 8.1 license for this test. In all three versions we reviewed, we can ‘see’ the traffic
which is generated by the anti-malware program in Windows 8.1 and whichis most likely related to the (potential malware) activities which are happening on the system. This means the cloud-based activity feature is definitely enabled and working,”  he said in an email.

“We expect that Microsoft is now better able to track what’s going on, malware-wise, on an (infected) PC.  However, when signatures are created/generated by the Microsoft anti-malware team, all users will benefit from them, as they are available and will be deployed to users of Security Essentials (on Windows XP, Vista and 7) as well as Windows Defender (on Windows 8 and 8.1),” he noted.

“What only Microsoft might be able to tell you is if they plan to further improve this feature in the Windows 8.1 Update which is scheduled for March/April 2014. We do not have access to a beta version yet (which was just leaked), so we cannot tell you more on ‘Provable PC Health’ yet.”

skydrive-logo1More Cloud Integration on the Way?

In any case, better integration between PPHC and Windows could be on the way with the appointment of Satya Nadella — who previously headed Microsoft’s cloud computing efforts — as CEO.

Nadella’s division was in charge of the technology powering cloud-enabled Windows services like Office 365, Xbox Live, Bing, and OneDrive (formerly known as SkyDrive).

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