Why The MDM War Is About Apps For Microsoft

In a corporate environment where bring your own device (BYOD) has become widely accepted, the competition for business IT dollars has increasingly switched to mobile device management (MDM). Microsoft's play in this space relies on two non-mobile technologies where it dominates: Office and Active Directory.

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Microsoft's initial 2014 push into the MDM space came with the launch of Office for iPad last month, which also saw the launch of its Enterprise Mobility suite management platform, based on its established Intune cloud-based management platform. At TechEd North America this week, Microsoft expanded further on those plans, outlining how it intends to use Office — still easily the dominant suite platform despite cloud competition from Google — as a means of leveraging itself onto managed BYOD devices.

By the end of the year, Microsoft intends to release "managed" versions of Office — covering Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook Web Access (OWA) — that will run on iOS and Android. On the surface, those won't look much different to the initial release. The main difference will be that Windows Intune can be used to roll out a management "wrapper" to those apps, which will allow companies to set policies on where documents can be saved, how data can be saved and even how it can be copied.

The fact that OWA, rather than Outlook, is being deployed reflects the brutal reality that Microsoft can't "remove" the existing native mail clients on other platforms or easily add a wrapper to them. "We don't own the ship capabilities for a lot of these platforms, and we don't just try to cram our Windows principles into Android or iOS," Intune program manager Josh Pointer said. That noted, OWA is a fairly capable platform, and on mobile devices that don't have a keyboard, the usability difference between that and a native client won't be highly marked.)

Developers will also be able to use an SDK to develop other managed apps, and a secure browser will allow access to protected corporate sites and resources. However, realistically Office is going to be the main attraction for most users. For enterprises, the attraction might prove to be price: $4 per user per month, regardless of the number of devices the user runs.

Despite widespread interest in MDM, dominating that space might take a while. According to Telsyte, the Australian market is highly fragmented. BlackBerry is the dominant provider, followed by AirWatch, MobileIron, Good Technology and SAP — but no-one has a dominant share, and only 24 per cent of companies had an MDM system installed.

For BlackBerry, much of its corporate future is likely to depend on selling its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) management offerings beyond its existing user base. That said, BlackBerry is one area Microsoft won't be touching. Despite BlackBerry having opened up BlackBerry 10 this week so that other MDM vendors can easily manage it, Microsoft says it has no plans to add BlackBerry to its existing roster of iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


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