With the announcement of the release to manufacturing of System Center 2012 Service Pack (SP) 1 last week, I figured Microsoft must be closing in on the delivery of the fourth release of its Windows Intune management service -- given that the pair are becoming increasingly integrated.
When I asked the Softies for an update as to when Windows Intune 4 would be released to the Web, I received the expected "it's coming soon" response. (Microsoft officials already said the newest version of Windows Intune would be out in early 2013.)
But there's a new sign that "soon" could be sooner than many think. My ZDNet colleague Matt Baxter-Reynolds found a download link to updated documentation for Windows Intune. Even though the list of supported platforms on the download site doesn't mention Windows 8, Windows RT and/or Windows Phone 8, all three are mentioned in the December PDF.
Currently, Windows Intune doesn't support Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 at all. But the coming release allows applications to be deployed to Microsoft -- and non-Microsoft iOS and Android mobile devices -- in two ways. (Microsoft first added iOS and Android device support to Windows Intune back with version 3 of the service.)
There's an administrative console that lets IT pros set up links to apps in the Windows Store, Windows Phone Store, Apple App Store and Google Play which can be published to users through the company portal. Or, for those who want and need apps to be deployed directly on users' mobile devices without going through an app store, there is a software installer that can provide a signed app package, uploaded by the Administrator, to the new Windows Intune.
Here's a list from the aforementioned PDF of the mobile device platforms to which Windows Intune can sideload, with the software file types required for each platform:
With the new Windows Intune release, end users will be able to download and install a "Company Portal" Windows 8 and Windows RT app from the Windows Store. Via this app, they'll be able to find and install line-of-business apps that their companies make available. And as a result of the greater integration between Windows Intune and System Center Configuration Manager, deployment of these apps also is possible through the SCCM administrative console, with apps delivered through the Windows Intune service and installed via the Company Portal app.
All of this is at the crux of Microsoft's plan for managing Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 devices, as the Redmondians have been hinting for months. Baxter-Reynolds, like me, has been trying to connect the unnecessarily obfuscated dots. Here's his take from November on the enterprise side-loading story for Windows 8.
As far as I can tell, there isn't going to be a public beta of Windows Intune version 4. (I asked last week and received no answer.) Instead, it's looking like the newest version of Microsoft's PC management and security service will simply be released in final form real soon now.
Update: Another sign of the imminent arrival of the new release of Windows Intune: Microsoft updated its pricing for the service so that it is available on a per-user subscription basis. Starting in December, for $6 per user per month, Windows Intune is licensable for use on up to five devices -- any combination of Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, iOS, Mac OS and Android.
"Software Assurance for Windows is no longer included with all Windows Intune offerings, and pricing has been reduced accordingly," the documentation notes. But it does seem users can opt to continue to pay $11 per user per month to get Software Assurance coverage, though they will have to pay extra for sideloading licenses.