Microsoft unveiled a new swath of business-oriented capabilities for its next-generation Windows Phone 7 platform at the software giant's Tech-Ed conference in Atlanta on Monday. Among other things, the new mobile platform, code-named Mango, will make it possible for mobile workers to synchronize their handset e-mail and calendars with the same apps running on desktop PCs or laptops and gain access to hidden corporate Wi-Fi networks.
Slated for commercial release later this year, Mango will provide security-conscious IT departments with support for complex alphanumeric passwords. Moreover, enterprises will be able to protect corporate e-mails and Microsoft Office documents through the application of new information-rights-management technology being built into Microsoft's mobile platform.
"Mango is a big release and we are seeing more and more capabilities come out," said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC. "At Tech-Ed the focus is on business, even though some of what's talked about is useful for both business and consumer, which is a hallmark of where we are in mobile technology now -- namely, that you can't easily divide the two anymore."
Windows Phone 7 handset users running Mango will be able to search their company's Microsoft Exchange server for older e-mails no longer stored on the phone so mobile users will have ready access to all their messages. What's more, users will be able to save and share Office documents through Office 365 and Windows Live SkyDrive as well as consolidate incoming e-mail messages into a conversation view.
Microsoft also expects to provide business users with access to a set of unified communications capabilities, including instant messaging as well as the ability to see the presence of coworkers. The software giant's new mobile Lync app "will be a free download from Windows Phone Marketplace and will be enabled with support from your business organization," Microsoft blogger Paul Brian wrote.
Though Mango's new e-mail conversation view and back-end searching capabilities will be seen as strong additions by time-limited users, they should also prove useful for non-business back-end applications, Hilwa noted. "Overall, the capabilities for business create a front for Microsoft's Windows Phone marketing that it can use against Android and, to some extent, Apple," he said.
Leveraging Some Serious Assets
With Mango, Microsoft will be able to offer a significant number of features that many enterprises have been waiting for. However, the software giant has to continue to follow through over time by delivering a steady stream of innovations in later releases.
"They have to keep the features coming, because in some ways competitors like Apple have begun to focus on business as well," Hilwa observed. "But Microsoft has some serious assets and account-management strength that it can leverage here, and we are just starting to see the beginning of the story with these features."
Microsoft's recent deal to acquire Skype for $8.5 billion also gives the software giant control over strategic capabilities that have already become widely popular among small-business users across the world. If the acquisition passes regulatory scrutiny, Microsoft will be able to directly connect Skype's 170 million users with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live, and other communities.
The software giant expects Skype to eventually support a wide array of Microsoft devices, including Windows Phone 7 handsets, Xbox and Kinect. "There is no doubt that it will leverage Skype in mobile, gaming and business, but Mango was already in the works before the acquisition," Hilwa said. "So the Skype integration is likely [to come] in a post-Mango release."