04:30 PM

Microsoft Extends Its Reach To Mobile Device Management

New Mobile Device Manager can remotely provision and control Windows Mobile smartphones.

Taking aim at Research In Motion's commanding lead in the business smartphone market, Microsoft last week introduced a server for managing and securing Windows Mobile devices.

Microsoft's System Center Mobile Device Manager becomes a direct competitor of RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, used by IT departments to manage all those BlackBerrys being toted by managers and other employees. BlackBerrys represent about 70% of the enterprise smartphone market, according to Yankee Group, while smartphones running Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system account for about 15%.

Ballmer: Seizing a 20 million-device opportunity

Ballmer: Seizing a 20 million-device opportunity

Photo by Kim Kulish
Microsoft wants a bigger share of that market. Its new Mobile Device Manager can be used to remotely manage and provision mobile devices much like PCs and to support smartphone connections to company VPNs. Microsoft introduced Windows-based "push" e-mail two years ago supported by Exchange Server.

The "immature state" of the business smartphone market has forced companies to use a hodgepodge of infrastructure management tools, says Carmi Levy, an analyst with AR Communications. Microsoft's new server may appeal to IT departments that have been holding back from strategic mobile deployment, Levy says.

Mobile Device Manager will be available in the first half of 2008. Its strength--Windows integration--is also its weakness. The server supports only devices running Windows Mobile. By comparison, Nokia's Intellisync device management software works with BlackBerry, Palm, and Symbian phones, as well as Windows Mobile.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled Mobile Device Manager at the CTIA wireless conference in San Francisco. Ballmer also announced a partnership with Enterprise Mobile, a startup that will help companies customize and deploy Windows Mobile phones.

Smartphones account for only 10% of the 1.2 billion handsets that will be shipped worldwide this year, according to ABI Research. But the smartphone market is expected to grow rapidly--as much as 70% a year, according to research group In-Stat--as more people work remotely and new applications become available.

Nokia, the world's No. 1 handset maker, earlier this year accelerated the North American launch of its business-oriented E series smartphones. Three models--the E61i, E65, and E90--are available to U.S. companies through sales channels other than wireless carriers. Ingram Micro, for example, is a distributor. "The number of mobilized in-boxes is growing very significantly," says Scott Cooper, VP of mobility solutions with Nokia's enterprise division.


RIM isn't about to give ground easily. The com- pany has been selling BlackBerry Enterprise Server for nearly a decade and earlier this month launched the BlackBerry 8820, featuring both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity, of growing interest to on-the-go professionals.

More third-party tools for mobile e-mail control are being offered as well. Endpoint management software providers such as Altiris and LANDesk are building products that will cover multiple mobile devices.

Ballmer knows how to seize an opportunity: Microsoft expects 20 million Windows Mobile devices to be sold by handset vendors and carriers this year.

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