At its annual TechEd conference this year, Microsoft gave its new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, only a supporting role to play. The company offered only a few more details about its new online Marketplace site for Windows Phone applications, and about OS features aimed at enterprise users.
The low-key approach may have deflected straight-up comparisons with Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference, where CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4G running the iOS 4 firmware, which offers a range of features such as controlled application multitasking that are currently lacking in Windows Phone 7. Handsets with Microsoft's radically redesigned mobile operating system are not due until the 2010 "holiday season" and Microsoft this week didn't make the time frame any more specific.
The real focus of TechEd, which this year drew some 6,000 IT professionals and software developers to New Orleans, was extending the security, reliability and functionality of its Windows Azure platform, to enable enterprise data centers to accelerate the shift of behind-the-firewall enterprise systems to the cloud.
Windows Phone 7 was notably missing from the celebration of the cloud. Microsoft executives used the event to talk about two areas: Windows Phone Marketplace, a redesigned online site for finding, buying, and downloading Windows Phone applications; and how the initial release of Windows Phone devices will fit into enterprise requirements.
Yet Microsoft missed the chance to guide developer and enterprise expectations around other key areas of Windows Phone 7.
There was no word on when real handsets will be available to developers for testing applications, nor on when beta versions of the OS and some key development tools will be released. The release timeframe for when companies like HTC, LG, and others will unveil and release handsets running Windows Phone 7 remains frustratingly vague: "the holiday season" and "fourth quarter." Microsoft hasn't been willing to talk about a road map for future Windows Phone development priorities, or even for enterprise-specific features.
Windows Phone and the Enterprise
Windows Mobile was designed from the outset to create a unique, intuitive "mobile experience" for users, with the focus being on consumers. The assumption is that many of these same people will want to use such a mobile platform for business as well.
At this point, for business users, Microsoft executives are emphasizing the platform's tight integration with Exchange and SharePoint, an integration designed specifically to be easy and simple for mobile users, and its built-in security.
The Office Hub on the phone features a suite of mobilized versions of Microsoft Office applications like Word. The OS is tightly integrated with Microsoft Exchange in-box, calendar and contacts. And there's a local client app that ties into SharePoint Server.
Instead of creating a Web interface to SharePoint, the phone's SharePoint WorkGroup Client is an application that supports SharePoint documents offline, and synchronizes with the SharePoint server.
"You don't do as much offline on a phone" compared to a PC, says Paul Bryan, a senior director of product management with Microsoft's mobile communications business. "You want more viewing than editing, and [to] keep in synch with the latest [document] version on a server."
Microsoft also has high hopes for OneNote, an existing note-taking application that executives insist will prove highly popular with Windows Phone users.
When Microsoft migrates its hosted Business Productivity Online Suite to the support Exchange Server 2010 and SharePoint 2010, Windows Phone will be able to work with the Suite via Outlook Mobile in a browser and the Office Hub.
Windows Phone security starts with Microsoft's platform security design practices, which it developed for Windows 7. The OS itself sandboxes the managed code applications, meaning each one runs in its own "space" unable to access other applications or parts of the OS. SSL protects e-mail exchanges. The device itself can be protected by a password and PIN combination. The mobile version of Internet Explorer, new for Windows Phone 7, will not run applications, according to Bryan.