SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft unveiled new features of the upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system that should simplify enterprise management and security by bringing to the devices the same features of office desktop PCs.
At the Windows Phone Summit held June 20 in San Francisco, Microsoft executives provided a Windows Phone Platform Preview to developers who create applications for the mobile operating system. Windows Phone 8 is expected to be officially released sometime this fall, which is also the estimated timeframe for the release of Windows 8 for tablets and desktop computers.
“Windows 8 is enterprise-ready,” said Kevin Gallo, a developer platform general manager in Microsoft’s Windows Phone Division. “Companies can know that their corporate assets are safe on a Windows phone.”
Improvements in Windows Phone 8 over the current version, Windows 7.5, include secure booting of the device, Microsoft’s BitLocker drive encryption technology already in the current Windows 7 OS, device-management features, such as determining what employees have access to what apps from what location and a more flexible app-deployment model.
“Each enterprise can decide which applications they want in their store for their employees as well as decide how to distribute those applications,” Gallo said, adding that IT managers have the option of deploying apps via the cloud or through a company-controlled intranet.
Windows 8 is also enterprise-ready in continuing to offer the Microsoft Office suite of productivity applications, as is already the case with Windows Phone 7, he said.
Using the same security and management tools on Windows Phone 8 as are available-and familiar to IT administrators-on Windows desktops should ease the IT staff’s concerns about letting Windows Phone devices on corporate networks, said Joe Belfiore a corporate vice president at Microsoft.
“Some IT administrators have been somewhat dissatisfied with what Windows Phone 7 has had to offer for their enterprise or business,” Belfiore admitted. “There were a number of gaps, and we think we have them filled in Windows Phone 8.”
Gallo demonstrated another new Windows Phone 8 feature called the Company Hub, a set of applications enabled by the enterprise that all have work-related content. He used Microsoft’s own Company Hub as an example, citing how it includes tools so an employee can see how many vacation days they have coming and schedule vacation time. Other apps include a source for company news, a calendar of company events, human resources information or alert notifications from IT if there’s an outage or other problem. The Hub is customizable to suit each company’s needs.
The business-oriented features in Windows Phone 8 are intended to address problems that may arise when IT departments accommodate the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend at work where employees seek to use their personal devices, while at the same time, IT seeks to secure the network and protect proprietary corporate or customer personal information.
The news about allowing businesses to deploy Windows 8 apps only to their employees drew praise from Gregory Gibbons, vice president of business development for The Mobile Lab, an application developer.
“The issue is that if I create an application and I only want this company to have it, how do you do that?” Gibbons asked. “If you put it in the [Windows Phone Application] Marketplace, well, everybody’s going to have it. So how do you make it for enterprise?”
One alternative is to release an app as a beta version and limit access to selected people identified by their email addresses, he said. But that’s impractical if, in the case of one client, Six Flags Entertainment, the operator of 14 family amusement parks across the United States, Gibbons needs to limit it, to the firm’s 35,000 part-time employees.
With the business app distribution feature in Windows Phone 8, “now, problem solved. It doesn’t have to be a beta app,” Gibbons said.
The main event for developers at the summit was Microsoft’s announcement that Windows Phone 8 would have a “shared common core” with Windows 8, making it easier for developers to create an app that would run on a Windows Phone 8 device and a Windows 8 device.
“With a shared common core, developers who are working on Windows 8 have an incredibly easy transition to Windows Phone. And developers who worked for Windows Phone can move their apps quickly and easily to Windows 8,” said Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president at Microsoft.