Windows Intune 3: The chance to get it completely right

The cloud-based Windows desktop management tool is already great for small businesses, except for one thing

In mid-2010 I had the pleasure of being introduced to the possibilities of Windows Intune -- Microsoft's cloud-based desktop management service for Windows XP SP3, Vista, and 7 PCs -- at a special workshop at TechEd for journalists. It was finally released early in 2011, then updated in October 2011 to version 2.0. Intune lets small and medium-size businesses (those with as many as 500 users) manage systems through an $11-per-user-per-month subscription cloud service accessed through a browser. It's convenient for companies concerned about having to manage an on-premise server like System Center Configuration Manager.

Microsoft is now working on Version 3.0 of Intune and taking the opportunity to fix some of the remaining gaps in the service.

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What's new -- and missing -- in Intune 2.0
The 2.0 version released in October added very welcome capabilities.

  • Software distribution: You can deploy both Microsoft and third-party software through the Windows Intune service by creating software packages (in the form of .exe, .msi, and .msp files) and uploading them to a cloud storage space that is reserved for these packages.
  • Third-party license management: You're no longer restricted to managing just Microsoft volume licenses. It's nice to now have a one-stop shop for all licensing.
  • Improved hardware reporting: The new reporting options help you keep track of both hardware and software.
  • Improved policy conflict: When Windows Server's group policy conflicts with Intune policies, you can now resolve them through the administrative console.
  • Remote task improvements: You can now initiate full or light malware scans, update signatures, and reboot the system.

Other new features include a better interface and a new read-only access role so that administrators can let other people run reports and such without the ability to make any changes.

But Windows Intune falls flat in one key area: its remote administration functionality. You can send out a request to perform remote assistance, and the user can accept the request, which is a wonderful development. However, most admins need to perform certain tasks outside of business hours and must connect to a system without the user's acceptance. Because Intune can't do that, you have to buy additional tools or disrupt users during their workday.

What's coming in Intune version 3.0
I hope someone at Microsoft takes the hint and resolves the remote connectivity issue in the forthcoming Intune 3.0.

In version 3.0, Microsoft has already said it will help Intune connect with other servers and manage additional systems. For example, Microsoft plans to let Intune connect with an on-premises System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) deployment, as well as with Forefront Endpoint Protection and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). Already, for $1 more per user per month, Intune 2.0 lets administrators use the tools in MDOP, including virtualization capabilities like MED-V and APP-V. Microsoft also plans to integrate Intune with Office 365 and some mobile devices.

I've liked Intune right from the beginning. The pricing is sound, and the features, which continue to improve, are exactly what's needed for a small business -- except for that remote desktop connection hassle. I hope Intunes 3.0 works out that kink.

This article, "Windows Intune 3: The chance to get it completely right," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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