Nearly four years ago, in February 2009, Microsoft released its last mobile operating system -- Windows Mobile 6.5 -- that could support corporate security and management needs. Nearly three years ago, in February 2010, Microsoft unveiled its replacement, Windows Phone 7, which had none of the security and management capabilities of Windows Mobile; that October, the first Windows Phone 7 devices shipped amid market indifference. Five months later, in July 2010, Apple released iOS 4, which brought those capabilities to the iPhone and put the iPhone on the path to being the new corporate standard smartphone. The world turned upside down.
This week, Microsoft formally unveiled Windows Phone 8 -- and Nokia and HTC showed off smartphones based on it expected to ship in November -- and finally brought back security and management capabilities to its smartphone platform. Windows Phone is a pretty OS, with compelling UI innovations, but its inability to work in most business environments has helped keep its adoption at trivial levels.
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Does Windows Phone 8 now have what it takes to compete with iOS in the corporate management and security department? The short answer is yes, at a basic level. Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at mobile device management (MDM) vendor MobileIron (whose MDM also supports Windows Phone 8), says that Windows Phone 8 is fully capable of supporting information workers in open corporations, those not needing to meet high-level regulatory or security requirements. It can't work in those higher-need environments yet, he notes, due both to supporting fewer policies than Apple's iOS and to the fact MDM vendors can't yet implement clients that provide the same level of extra controls they can for iOS and in some cases Android to go beyond what the OS itself supports.
What exactly does Windows Phone 8 offer natively? Like iOS and Android, it supports Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies for basic management via Microsoft Exchange or System Center 2012, as well as native policies for MDM vendors to use. Perhaps the biggest change is the new ability to manage apps -- both from the Windows Store and an enterprise's own catalog -- similar to iOS's approach but handled more centrally, says J.P. Halebeed, global director of R&D at AirWatch, whose MDM also supports Windows Phone 8. The tables on the following pages compare the three mobile OSes' EAS and other native capabilities.