Windows Phone 7 Sacrifices Business Features for Consumer Appeal

Windows Phone 7 delivers more business-class features than expected at first glance, but enterprise IT shouldn't expect to deploy the forthcoming OS, only support it.

The funniest thing I heard at TechEd 2010 was uttered by an earnest Microsoft employee who took other mobile operating systems to task for their user interface designs held back by their adherence to old models.

Paul Bryan, Microsoft's senior director of Business Experience Product Management, said, "We are taking a different approach, not the traditional rows and columns model. That was in some ways a metaphor for the PC."

Despite the delicious irony of that statement (given Windows Mobile's continuous reliance on the Start Menu), what I really wanted to hear from Bryan was a solid position statement on where business customers fit when it comes to the forthcoming mobile operating system. Early messaging seemed so dire for business customers, I tweeted "Enterprise take-away on Windows Phone 7: this is not for you" in the wake of the March MIX10 conference.

Bryan gave me the full lowdown on the business-grade mobile features in Windows Phone 7, and while the enterprise story was not as dire as I anticipated, enterprises will find they must sacrifice much with the new OS.

Windows Phone 7 will support multiple e-mail accounts through EAS (Exchange ActiveSync), delivering the e-mail, calendar and contact data that many expect from their smartphones. Microsoft layers additional Office functionality through the forthcoming SharePoint Workspace collaboration client for use with SharePoint 2010 (and soon, its online equivalent), allowing users to share documents and perform offline syncs.

Mobile administrators should expect support for EAS policies that enable passwords and complexity rules, to perform remote wipes or reset factory settings upon multiple failed logins. Unfortunately, the enterprise management and administration support ends there for the time being. At launch, there will be no support for System Center, nor is there Domain Join or Active Directory Group Policy support-although Bryan said Microsoft will look to add System Center support down the road.

The lack of System Center support means that third-party mobile management solutions that leverage System Center-such as Odyssey Athena-will needed to start from scratch. I expect early products from such companies to focus primarily on data collection and inventory capabilities while lacking critical provisioning and deployment features. Nor will private Windows Marketplaces be usable for corporate distribution of mobile applications to Windows Phone 7-Microsoft is looking at the feasibility of that idea, but has nothing to announce at this point.

For secured connectivity, enterprises may be dissatisfied with what they find within Windows Phone 7. The forthcoming OS only supports three basic types of secured connectivity: HTTPS for Web applications, an SSL VPN via UAG (Unified Access Gateway) for the SharePoint client and the security built into EAS. Microsoft has seen fit not to include a built-in IPSEC or SSL VPN client or support for DirectAccess.

Really, Windows Phone 7 is not meant to appeal to businesses. Instead, Microsoft wants to generate consumer appeal by creating a device that people want to buy that will get used for work purposes as part of users' mobile lifestyle.

However, for businesses needing more from their mobile platform, whether it is to standardize on an OS for line-of-business applications or Unified Communications purposes or to deliver advanced security logging, device encryption or threat mitigation for compliance purposes, Windows Phone 7 is not the right choice. Instead, Microsoft points to the familiar old guard to deliver those capabilities, as Bryan recommended Windows Phone 6.5 (formerly Windows Mobile) or Windows CE 7.0 depending on the use case.

While I laud Microsoft's desire to deliver a smartphone that people want to use, it's unfortunate the company can't do that and, at the same time, ensure that businesses can confidently provide those devices to their users.