On the eve of the Mango release of the Windows Phone mobile operating system, ZDNet UK broaches the big business questions raised by this major update with Microsoft product management executive Paul Bryan.
With only 1.6 million Windows Phone 7 devices sold in the first quarter and complaints about how long operators were able to delay previous updates, Microsoft is hoping that the major Mango update will attract the third of smartphone users who say they haven't decided what their next phone will be after iPhone, Android or BlackBerry.
The Windows Phone team will reveal full details of the Mango update this week, on top of the improved browsing and multitasking it has already promised. ZDNet UK spoke to Paul Bryan, senior director of product management for business customers, in advance of the announcement to find out what new features will be in Mango for business users and IT departments.
Q: Email is always the first application that businesses use on smartphones. Are you making any improvements for email in Mango?
A: We're introducing pinnable folders — that's something I use already. There's a to-do folder I have in my inbox and I just pin it on the Start screen. You go into the inbox and choose Folders and choose 'Show all folders' and you can just take any of these and pin them to Start.
You can pin any folder you have in Outlook, which can be an email folder, an RSS feed or SharePoint. You choose the criteria. You can set the number of days of messages [to download].
The other thing we have is server search. That's a new capability that does local search and then you scroll to the bottom and it says, 'Search more in Outlook'.
We also have conversation view, which we think actually makes it really easy and simple to follow what's happening in email. We've updated how the UI works even since we showed it last week. We've made it more elegant.
It actually uses the flag in Exchange, so it's not a subject-based conversation view. It's the real conversation view. If a conversation is split across different folders, or if it's older, it will say there's more and you can go and search the server for the rest of the conversation.
Microsoft has repeatedly said Windows Phone will be the best operating system for working with Office documents. Does Mango have new document features, and what about support for SkyDrive and Office 365?
We've retooled the Office hub and made it an overall better user experience from the perspective of being able to see multiple documents. We have vertical scrolling instead of just horizontal. We've noticed people actually accumulating information on their phones.
We've retooled the Office hub and made it an overall better user experience from the perspective of being able to see multiple documents.
You can synchronise documents with SkyDrive in Mango. You can do Office document synchronisation and we also have connectivity to Office 365. If I go into the Office hub out of the box, I'd see something that says Office 365. If you click on that and enter your user name and password for an Office 365 account, it will auto-provision and auto-discover for you. Then it will set up access for you to your SharePoint, to your Exchange connection through Office 365, and give you access to Lync through the free downloadable app.
Lync is about unified communications. Do you have any voice features in the Windows Phone app?
We're still working through some of the capabilities and we don't know exactly how far we'll be able to get in this release. IM and presence are the primary features. There may be more capabilities we can connect to over time.
If you know what Lync can do, you can kind of see the future beyond the first release of the app. We definitely see IM and presence as the core capabilities of the experience.
There's a lot of concern about data security on mobile devices. Does Mango help businesses lock down data that's going onto phones?
We can do information rights management (IRM) on mails and documents. If you have IRM through Exchange and Windows Server, then Windows Phone can access those documents. Today, on Windows Phone and any other phone, if you get a rights-protected mail, at this point it will say you can't open it.
We can do information rights management on mails and documents.
With Windows Phone Mango, you'll be able to open it and it will adhere to the policies and you'll be able to protect the information. We have access once it's on the phone to read it even if you're offline.
We're adding alphanumeric PIN support. When you lock your screen, today it's only a numeric PIN and we're adding alphanumeric characters, which protect the phone better from tampering, from any access people might get if they picked up your phone and walked away with it.
Does IRM use hardware encryption?
There is no hardware encryption at this point in time. We're aware of that as a need by some customers and are exploring ways to get that. We do have a way to secure information on the phone using the crypto API that's on the device itself, so you can write an application and secure the information.
Is there a way to enforce alphanumeric passwords or is it just an option?
It's EAS [Exchange ActiveSync] policy controlled, so you can enforce it. One of the things you're going to be able to do in the next version of System Center Configuration Manager is control those policies, as well as all the things we have currently — remote wipe, enforce password setting, setting rules for the complexity of the password, IRM — all those policies.
Why are you adding support for hidden SSID Wi-Fi networks? Are you recommending that as a way to secure Wi-Fi?
That's another thing some customers have asked for. We provided a lot of explanations initially [about why not to do it] — and then we added the capability because it is the way people do things even though it isn't particularly an added security provision.
In the past you've said there will be a way for businesses to distribute internal applications privately, because you can't load apps direct onto Windows Phones. Is that coming in Mango?
We are going to be adding targeted distribution. It's effectively a way of adding a hidden link at the last stage of publishing an app so that I can distribute to whomever in my company I'd like to access that app directly.
Is there an option to control which users can download the app from that link?
The security for the app is still handled by the app itself, as it is today. The link itself is accessible to anyone who receives it. The authentication is handled by the application itself — just as today we have applications like CRM that do cloud-based authentication through Windows Azure or through some cloud service that connects to Active Directory.
That is a way to get the app to a limited subset of people. There are a lot of apps you might not want to have in the public marketplace. Even Microsoft has applications for field sales users that today are published in the public marketplace and we'd prefer to have them on a private link.
We're looking at ways to evolve this in terms of making it even more robust for end-to-end lifecycle management and exploring ways to secure that in the future.
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