With Windows XP due to expire on April 8 this year, many businesses are looking to upgrade.

This leaves firms with a conundrum: migrate to the more familiar Windows 7; or try Microsoft's latest iteration, Windows 8.1?

Advanced functionality and a consumer friendly interface makes Windows 8.1 the best option for many. But what is new compared with its predecessor, Windows 8?

Start screen

Many businesses were fans of Microsoft's 'Start' button and menu - and the good news is, it's back. Windows 8.1's usability is improved with the addition of a visible start button to the taskbar. Meanwhile, the 'Quick Links' menu now contains shutdown and sign-out options.

Apps

The suite of pre-loaded apps that come with Windows 8.1 has also been updated. As part of this, 'PC Settings' now includes options that were previously exclusive to the desktop 'Control Panel'. Meanwhile the Windows Store has been given an improved interface for browsing apps, as well as automatic updates. Additionally, the 'Mail' app includes an updated interface and new features.

Functionality

Windows 8.1 is more tightly integrated with Microsoft services such as SkyDrive (now OneDrive). This sees the cloud platform integrated at a system level to sync user settings and files. The SkyDrive app is also updated to include a local file manager.

Additionally, the Windows 8 messaging app has been replaced by Microsoft-owned Skype, allowing users to accept calls from the lock screen.

Meanwhile, a unified search system with the ability to analyse users' habits, based on Microsoft's Bing, has been added. Windows 8.1 also includes Internet Explorer 11.

Security

Windows 8.1 features an encryption system based on BitLocker. On top of this, the updated operating system adds better fingerprint recognition APIs, allowing the biometric method to be used for device authentication.