Windows Intune, Windows Phone Update, Bing Deals: Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week saw the company prep for Windows Intune, wrestle with its Windows Phone 7 update and announce some Bing partnerships.

Microsoft continued to chase the cloud this week, prepping for the launch of its Windows Intune IT management platform and trying to get the most recent software update for its Windows Phone 7 back on track.

The cloud-based Windows InTune gives IT administrators for midsize businesses an enterprise-style level of control over a network, via a combination of cloud-based services, on-site PC management tools and added malware protection. Whether setting up an automatic antivirus policy, checking on whether software licenses are up to date, or diagnosing unbootable PCs, the platform's features are supposed to be streamlined for those IT pros' ease-of-use.

Microsoft is also bundling Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights with Windows Intune, the better to a.) increase the business presence of Windows 7, which it relies on to drive a major portion of its revenue, and b.) allow businesses to standardize on the same operating-system version. Starting March 23, the Intune platform will be available for either purchase or 30-day trial in 35 countries.

"Windows Intune builds on our history of delivering cloud services at scale, including Hotmail and Windows Update, and leverages Microsoft's cloud experience with Azure, Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365," Gavriella Schuster, a general manager at Microsoft, wrote in a Feb. 28 posting on The Windows Blog.

Under pressure from rivals such as Google and Salesforce, Microsoft has made substantial inroads into the cloud over the past year, using its conferences and other events to push cloud-based IT services to corporations. However, the cloud continues to generate precious little revenue for Microsoft itself. Given that lack of bottom-line positivity-which continue to be driven by more traditional offerings such as Windows and Office-some Redmond executives may be wondering (with increasingly anxiety) if one particular cloud release will finally ignite the sort of broad-based interest that, in turn, translates into significant dollars.

On the IT administrator side of the equation, it could be Intune. Microsoft originally rolled out the platform beta in April 2010, only to close the offering to new users after two days of what the company described as "overwhelming response." Beta-program slots had apparently filled in less than 30 hours.

IT administrators alone, however, won't translate into billions of dollars' worth of revenue, meaning the day the cloud rains cash for Microsoft remains at some nebulous point in the future. That being said, Microsoft continues to hold out hope that its Windows Phone 7 platform will, in fact, start producing some substantial money in the near future.

To that end, Microsoft resumed its latest Windows Phone 7 update to Samsung smartphones, which it had pulled in the wake of users reporting technical glitches.

"Starting today, we plan to resume rolling out the February update to Samsung phones," Michael Stroh, a writer for Microsoft's Windows team, wrote in a March 2 posting on The Windows Phone Blog. "Meanwhile, we're continuing to dispatch the update to other Windows Phone models. As has been the case, the software patch is being sent out on a rolling schedule."

Stroh added that Microsoft's engineering teams had apparently "pinpointed and fixed problems" that caused some Windows Phone 7 devices to stall in mid-update. "We apologize again for the delay," he wrote, "and continue looking for ways to improve the update process."

Microsoft had originally described the update as a "smaller infrastructure update that will help future updates," including one scheduled for the first two weeks of March that will add cut-and-paste and faster mobile-application loading. Within a day of the update's original rollout, though, users began reporting it stalled their smartphones.

In the wake of those users taking their complaints to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 help forum, the company shifted into full-on damage-control mode, claiming in a corporate blog posting that only 10 percent of users' smartphones had stalled because of the new software. "Has the update process gone perfectly? No-but few large scale software updates ever do, and the engineering team here was prepared," Michael Stroh, a writer for Microsoft's Windows team, wrote in a Feb. 23 posting on The Windows Phone Blog.

Of the 10 percent whose Windows Phones had stalled, he added, "nearly half failed for two basic reasons-a bad Internet connection or insufficient computer storage space."

Microsoft may have reinstituted the update for Samsung phones, but reports abounded that the update was still causing issues for some users. "The new update is failing as well but gives a new error," one user wrote on Microsoft's forums March 2. Similar messages-with tech-support responses-began cropping up on Windows Phone support Twitter feed starting March 3.

Microsoft hopes that Windows Phone 7 will eventually slow the company's declining market-share in the mobile arena, and allow it to compete more heartily against the likes of Google Android and the Apple iPhone. Speaking of battles, Apple fired back this week against Microsoft's attempts to deny it the trademark to the term "app store."

Microsoft's original filing asked the federal agency's Trial and Appeal Board to deny "app store" to Apple on the grounds that "'app store' is generic for retail store services featuring apps and unregisterable for ancillary services such as searching for and downloading apps from such stores."

In a Feb. 28 filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple sought not only to undermine its rival's argument, but also deliver a few rhetorical jabs. "Microsoft, missing the forest for the trees, does not base its motion on a comprehensive evaluation of how the relevant public understands the term APP STORE as a whole," wrote Apple's legal counsel. "What it offers instead are out-of-context and misleading snippets of material printed by its outside counsel from the Internet and allegations regarding how the public allegedly interprets the constituent parts of the term APP STORE, i.e., -app' and -store.'"

Microsoft also lashed back against Google this week, with a set of Bing announcements tailored to draw users to the search engine. In partnership with The Dealmap, Bing is now offering local deals via both its mobile Website ( and via its search results for businesses. Microsoft is also partnering with Kayak to help with airfare searches. Both deals come at a time when Microsoft and Google are locking horns in a number of areas-not just search, but also the cloud.