Despite criticism surrounding Microsoft's shift to an entirely new mobile platform, followed by a rather ho-hum reaction from consumers and critics when the product shipped, Microsoft has plodded ahead, unflappable in its thick skin. Indeed, the user experience is actually quite promising, even if it started life without some fairly obvious features. There are now 16,000 Windows Phone 7 applications in the Windows Phone Marketplace, according to Microsoft.
The upcoming updates promise marked improvements, and finally Microsoft seems to be paying attention to the enterprise as well.
First, for end users, the Outlook Mobile client will include pinnable folders, meaning users can take, say, a project folder and pin it to the Windows Phone start screen. (Outlook Mobile, by the way, can be a front end for a variety of messaging hosts, including GMail, HotMail, Exchange, and Yahoo.) In addition, Microsoft will add conversation views, sort of like in the desktop version of Outlook, but optimized for the mobile screen.
Paul Bryan, senior director for Windows Phone, said that these conversations will be slightly indented, and will include a vertical line that indicates there is more than one email in the thread. Clicking on the line expands the thread. Bryan said that the conversation view takes place using Exchange Active Sync, and can work with HotMail and Windows Live Mail as well.
Finally, Microsoft will also provide server search--that is, a search on the mail server for messages that are archived, and not on the phone any longer.
In another important step for Microsoft, there will be a Lync mobile application for Windows Phone. Many corporations use Microsoft's unified communication system on the desktop, and it's now also part of Office 365. However, Lync on the desktop provides instant messaging, presence, audio chat, and video chat, in addition to desktop sharing. Lync Mobile will only include instant messaging and presence for now, although it wouldn't be far-fetched to see Microsoft add that capability sometime soon. (Carriers will always want to have a say about the audio side, at least over the mobile network infrastructure.) The looming presence of Skype will surely further this development in future releases.
Lync can access on-premises Lync servers, but it can also access the service from Office 365. In fact, in Mango, Office Hub (one of the key user experience hubs in Windows Phone 7) will now work with Office 365. That is, Word, Excel, Notes, and PowerPoint documents can be saved and shared on Office 365 as well as on Windows Live SkyDrive. The Office Hub will automatically discover and provision Office 365 services, including Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync; users just enter an account number and password. The SharePoint service uses the native Windows Phone 7 SharePoint application.
All of these additions will make Windows Phone 7 a good mobile citizen of a Microsoft-oriented corporate software infrastructure.
Other Mango additions include Internet Explorer 9 (the mobile browser will share some of the desktop version's core code), stronger security support (complex alphanumeric passwords), and support for Information Rights Management--a feature that is part of Windows Server environments, and typically enabled for applications like PC-based email. Administrators set this up for Exchange Server, and it provides a set of email-sending templates that can enforce a policy, like preventing the recipient from printing or forwarding an email.
Microsoft also will support hidden Wi-Fi networks, and for developers there will be a way to create a target list for application distribution outside of the Windows Phone Marketplace; these applications come in the form of links, which can be emailed to a select group of recipients.
Microsoft would not commit to a specific ship date.
Businesses have myriad technology options for pulling together people and ideas. But getting it right still isn't easy. Also in the new all-digital issue of InformationWeek SMB: A UC champion's survival guide. Download it now. (Free registration required.)