Next week, Microsoft will host its annual TechEd event, this time in Atlanta, marking the first time I'll be staying in that city for an extended stay since a Spring COMDEX event, I think, from the late 1990s. So while I research what else there is to do in Atlanta—I hear there's a world-class aquarium for example—I'm also thinking ahead to what I'd like to see Microsoft announce at the show. Please understand that this is a wish list and in no way represents any understanding of what the company may or may not reveal next week.
Hey, we gotta dream, right?
The Windows Phone team has come under a lot of fire, and deservedly so, for not updating its initial version of Windows Phone in a timely, reliable, or reasonable schedule. With that in mind, I'd like to see the company announce that it has a plan to update Windows Phone more frequently, perhaps once a quarter, rather than its current schedule, in which Windows Phone will get just one update ("NoDo") in its first year. The second update, "Mango," is due later this year.
OK, I don't expect that to happen. But this coming Mango update is very interesting, and we know that it will have numerous developer and functional enhancements. Additionally, Microsoft is planning a consumer-oriented event a week after TechEd to discuss end-user features in the new version of the OS, which my sources tell me will be marketed as Windows Phone 7.5 even though it will internally be called Windows Phone 7.1. (In a similar way, Windows 7 is really Windows 6.1 under the hood.)
So what about business updates in Mango? It seems like TechEd would be the ideal time and place for this announcements, and the obvious starting point here is completing the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) picture, since today's Windows Phone supports only a subset of the available EAS policies. Some of the bigger missing features include encryption support, both on the device and on removable storage cards.
Microsoft also briefly mentioned the notion of private deployment for Windows Phone apps, which would let businesses bypass the public Windows Phone Marketplace to deploy apps to their own users. This makes plenty of sense (Apple offers a similar facility for iOS) and can't happen quickly enough. So hopefully we'll hear more about that as well.
Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Office 365 Integration
Once you get over the fact that Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2011 Essentials is basically SBS for Dummies and the easiest way ever to set up and use an Active Directory-based domain, what you're left with is a very simple server for very small businesses. There's not a lot going on here. You can add and manage users and you can provide storage. But the target market for this server isn't sophisticated enough to take the harder next steps. And that's always been the bit about SBS 2011 Essentials that has made me nervous.
What makes this a non-issue, however, is coming Office 365 integration, which Microsoft told me last fall would be delivered via an add-in for SBS 2011 Essentials. This will be made possible thanks to the new extensibility model available to SBS 2011 and its sister servers, Windows Home Server 2011 ("Vail") and Windows Storage Server 2011 Essentials ("Breckenridge").
With Office 365 racing toward completion and SBS 2011 Essentials nearing general availability, I'd like to hear more about this integration. Because when you combine these two products, you get a small business in a box—sort of, since Office 365 is obviously not boxed software—a solution that includes the exact right mix of cloud- and on premises services.
Ideally, this would also include some kind of minute savings over the normal small business pricing on Office 365, which is $6 per user per month. Even a small amount would make a big difference, since the paid version of Google Apps works out to a couple of bucks less per user per month. With small businesses, every dollar counts.
Windows Intune and Office 365 Integration
Windows Intune is a recent release, and Office 365 isn't even generally available yet. But I'm still looking ahead to some future where Intune picks up more and more System Center functionality (read: software deployment) and, perhaps as important, Microsoft offers a suite of services in which Intune and Office 365 are bundled together.
This would be the ultimate small business solution (when combined with SBS 2011 Essentials as noted above). But I think the ramifications here go well beyond small businesses, and that a combination of a maturing Intune and Office 365 could really trigger a mass exodus from on premises servers. And maybe I'm alone on this one, but I really, really believe this needs to happen, and sooner rather than later. We're so close.
OK, I don't really expect Microsoft to discuss Windows 8 at TechEd, given the company's schedule and a planned event in September. But reaching for the stars, what I would like to see is some indication that the company really is interested in feedback from its most crucial customers, and this conversation should start now, before the Windows 8 feature set is finalized. This isn't what happened with Windows 7 at all, and while I'm sure Microsoft has its reasons for doing otherwise, it really needs to engage customers earlier in the process. We're entering an era of increased heterogeneity and competition, and for Windows to remain on top, it needs to answer the needs of its customers and to do so proactively.
Again, we gotta dream.