Microsoft promises mobile management without getting in the way

BlackBerry Z3
Mobile device management has been a pain point for too long

As Microsoft adds more mobile device management features to both its own operating systems and its management tools, corporate vice president Brad Anderson is gunning for MDM software like AirWatch and MobileIron and Good. Microsoft can offer more features with a better experience at less than half the price, he says, thanks to what the cloud and enterprise team have learned by working with Office.

It's not just that more than 95% of companies are already using Active Directory and want to manage phones and tablets through the same system, it's also the combination of control for IT and a good user experience. "Working with them over the last eighteen months we've learned a lot from the Office team. The obsession the Office team has on the user experience; not being a hindrance, always being an enabler and making the user more productive. You can put the user first and foremost and you can do that without compromising what IT needs," he maintains.

Office for iPad and the version of Office that will come for Android are designed to be managed by Microsoft's cloud management service Intune, plus Microsoft will give companies a wrapper they can put around their own custom applications to protect them in the same way. "We're delivering first on iOS. We will support iOS. We support Google Android and 'Sandroid' (a porte-manteau term to describe Samsung's customised version of Android); there are a bunch of innovations Samsung is doing that we support."

Microsoft, the platform-agnostic company

And as native containers like Samsung Knox come out, Microsoft will work with those too. "We believe every device over time and every operating system is going to come out with some native way to separate personal from business. As Apple delivers whatever it's going to do on the device, we will support those. If we don't have to deliver a container, great! Samsung with Knox has done a great job. You can't write and deploy an app in iOS that gets a global view of everything on the device. There are certain things only the company that manufactures the device and the operating system can do and for those devices the OS vendor will do the best implementation of container technology."

But it's the experience in Office and Outlook that Anderson believes gives Microsoft its edge. "What's the first application businesses want to protect on a device? Email. So the MDM companies have all built their own email clients as part of this; you get their email application and I have yet to talk to a customer that is happy with those email applications. These companies are trying to compete against the native mail applications on this device and against Outlook and they can't do it. The experience they deliver is nowhere near as delightful as what we're going to deliver with Office."

And yes, Office includes Outlook. "Nearly everyone in the world is familiar with Outlook. Customers say to us 'if only I had Outlook on Android; if only I had it on iPad'. It's coming, baby! We will give businesses the choice, whether they want the native application or they want use Outlook. And there will be things in Outlook on iOS and Android that will not be in the native email app."

Anderson also wants to get away from the image of MDM as locking devices down so much that you don't want to use them (which helped make BlackBerry handsets unpopular in the same way overuse of Microsoft's desktop management tools drove users to bring their own tablets and notebooks to work). "Group policy was not built with the user front and centre," he admits. "All too often group policy was abused so the way end users saw it was long login times, decreased battery life - all they saw was their experience was degraded. Intune is kind of the new group policy from the cloud but we're thinking what productivity and what management means in the context of the cloud, with the user being the central design point. We want to be enablers not barriers."


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.