Windows Phone 7 in the Enterprise?

While I've been an enthusiastic supporter of Windows Phone 7 since Microsoft announced the new smartphone platform back in February, it's time for a reality check. Yes, Windows Phone 7 offers excellent competition to the current industry favorites Apple iPhone and Google Android. And yes, I do think it will establish itself as one of the key mobile platforms going forward. But Windows Phone 7 isn't an acceptable enterprise smartphone solution, at least not in its initial release. This will change over time. But I think it's important that you understand where this new platform falls short from an enterprise perspective.

Before we get to that, allow me to at least provide some good news. Windows Phone does provide a number of features that should be useful to information workers of all kinds and will form the basis of a broader enterprise push in a future update. For example, Windows Phone ships with support for multiple Exchange Server accounts (including those non-Microsoft systems based on Exchange ActiveSync, or EAS). Indeed, Windows Phone's email client (which is named after Outlook but fortunately bears no relation, technical or otherwise) is my current favorite on any mobile device, an email triaging wonder.

Windows Phone also provides a decent Office Mobile client, albeit one that is actually missing a few features from Office Mobile 2010 for Windows Mobile. And it ships with a terrific SharePoint Workspace client, providing seamless, over-the-air access to multiple SharePoint servers and the documents they contain.

And that's about it. What Windows Phone 7 is, really, is a "phone that consumers will buy and bring to work," as a Microsoft representative told me recently. It is, in other words, very much like the iPhone in that it targets consumers first and foremost, and does the minimum to be acceptable at work. This is the way the world is going. Although I've expressed my fears over the so-called consumerization of IT here in UPDATE before, allow me to reiterate a key theme: Businesses think they're saving money by letting workers use their own phones with work-related data and resources, but the resulting lowering of the guard might ultimately come back to haunt them.

(Side note: According to Microsoft, 82 percent of Windows Mobile phones are actually purchased by end users, with only 11 percent purchased directly by the employer. You have to think the first percentage is even higher for consumer-friendly devices like iPhone and Android and will be too, eventually, for Windows Phone 7.)

Windows Phone does offer a few security-related features that could mitigate some of these concerns. You can configure a policy to require the user to protect their phone with a 4-digit (or longer) PIN, for example, if they access your Exchange Server. Applications are sandboxed from each other to prevent electronic attacks. And the devices can't be configured as portable hard drives for PCs, so they can't take part in any wholesale theft of data.

But the Windows Phone story falls apart in the details. Yes, Windows Phone 7 supports a number of Exchange policies. But unlike Windows Mobile, which supports the full range of Exchange policies, Windows Phone 7 (for now at least) supports only a subset of those policies. Microsoft calls these the "core" set of EAS policies.

I'm trying to secure a final list of what is and what is not included in Windows Phone 7. At a minimum, this platform will include the following EAS policies: Password Required, Password Expiration, Password History, Allow Simple Password, Minimum Password Length, Idle Timeout Frequency/Value, Device Wipe Threshold/Codeword Frequency, and Remote Device Wipe. Microsoft says it will bring more policies (and other functionality) to Windows Phone 7 over time, thanks to its built-in Windows Phone Update feature. No word yet on timing, but I suspect that what gets added first will be prioritized based on feedback.

Dig a bit deeper and there are other concerns. Windows Phone 7 works with Exchange Server 2003, 2007, and 2010, but only with SharePoint 2010. And you'll need Forefront Universal Access Gateway (UAG) if you want to access SharePoint 2010 content from outside the corporate firewall. Using SharePoint Online? You're out of luck: It won't work until Microsoft updates that service to utilize SharePoint 2010.

One issue Apple ran into with corporate customers is that none were interested in using the public iTunes Store to deploy their internal applications to the devices. So Apple created a software solution that allows businesses to deploy their internal applications. Microsoft, meanwhile, requires that Windows Phone 7 apps be deployed through its own iTunes equivalent, Windows Phone Marketplace. Currently, there's no alternative, rendering this platform almost completely useless to businesses that want to create custom apps. Microsoft's plan is to provide a solution in the future, hopefully similar to what's available today on Windows Mobile via System Center.

Put simply, Windows Phone 7 is a wonderful platform for end users. But for the enterprise that wants to really manage what happens on the devices they deploy to end users, the initial shipping version is going to fall a bit short. And in all the hoopla around the release of this product, this is an important detail that often gets overlooked.


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