For the Mango release of the Windows Phone, due out this fall, Microsoft is still focused on creating a uniquely intuitive mobile UI for end users who are first and foremost consumers. But among the 500 changes are at least six that improve Windows Phone for business users and their IT departments.
The enterprise changes fall into two main groups: a trio of IT-oriented tweaks; and others designed to let Windows Phone work more closely and smoothly with your existing Microsoft business infrastructure, which has been a key part of Microsoft's mobile strategy from the outset. [See from October 2010, "Windows Phone 7 takes Office, SharePoint to new level on mobile."]
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What's still missing is the capacity to treat Windows Phone handsets as full clients to Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012. The second beta test version of SCCM 2012 was released in March. [More details are online at Microsoft.] The 2012 version is intended to unify "client management and protection across mobile, physical, and virtual environments," according to Microsoft.
The mobile platforms supported will include Windows Phone, Symbian, iOS and Android. Although SCCM 2012 will support these natively, it will do so only via the capabilities of Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), a protocol developed to let mobile devices synchronize information on Exchange Server 2010. Besides pushing emails to smartphones, EAS also includes a range of management and security features such as setting password policies and remotely wiping a lost smartphone. Apple and Google are among the EAS licenses, using it with their mobile OS platforms.
Mango's IT-specific improvements
1. Alphanumeric PIN/password: Currently, Windows Phone lets you only set simple PINs. With alphanumeric support, these can become more complex, and harder to guess or to break in a brute force attack.
2. Information Rights Management (IRM): IT, or if desired, end users, can set security and management policies for Exchange emails and their attachments. For example, a certain class of documents or a specific one can be blocked from forwarding or printing. A Mango phone that gets an IRM-protected email will check for its credentials, and then manage the message based on relevant policies.
3. Support for hidden corporate Wi-Fi networks: Mango phones will be able to connect to enterprise WLANs that have hidden SSIDs without having to use a separate application to uncover the network.
"We currently support the EAS capabilities most commonly asked for by our [enterprise] customers," says Paul Bryan, senior director of product management for Windows Phone. "We feel pretty confident it covers the majority of customer needs."
Mango's general business-related improvements
4. Powerful new Web browser: a mobile version of Internet Explorer 9 will ship with Mango, with support for the emerging HTML5 specification. "The browsing capabilities of the phone are one of the core aspects where we need to excel," says Bryan. The Windows Phone hardware specification requires a separate graphics chip. IE9 will directly exploit that silicon to dramatically improve Web graphics and interactivity. In addition, HTML5 will enable a new generation of Web applications, with more of the richness and interactivity of applications that run natively on the handset.
5. Unified communications client: Windows Phone already offers a native SharePoint client. The Mango-based free Lync Mobile app will let you connect directly to Microsoft Lync, the revamped and renamed Office Communications Server for integrating presence, IM, voice, conferencing, and other collaboration functions. [See our Insider review of Lync 2010, one-time registration required.] The Mango Lync app will work with either a Lync server behind the corporate firewall or the cloud-based alternative due out shortly as part of the upcoming Microsoft Office 365 bundle of online services (currently in beta). Mango can use an Office 365 account and password to auto-provision the Windows Phone Office Hub, which clusters Office-related apps, with direct links to these and other services.
6. Email improvements: Mango lets you pin an Exchange email folder to the Start screen, acting like a Windows Phone Live Tile showing the number of new, unread messages in that folder; multiple mail inboxes can be linked into one Live Tile, giving a single view of separate inboxes; Mango lets you extend email searches from the phone to the corporate exchange server; emails can be organized into "conversations" so you can track them and keep up with messages on a specific topic or issue; and save and share Microsoft Office documents on both Office 365 and Windows Live SkyDrive.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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