Microsoft and Nokia ally over Office in cloud

Nokia business smartphone manager Ilari Nurmi discusses his firm's roadmap for next year and its pact with Microsoft
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor

With Android smartphones and Apple's iPhone making inroads into the enterprise, Nokia is not the first name that comes to mind when you think of smartphones for business, even though it remains the world's largest seller of mobiles. The company is trying to improve its corporate credentials by adding key enterprise features to Symbian^3 business phones, based on Microsoft services.

As Nokia prepares to launch the E7 slider Qwerty smartphone that replaces the Nokia E90 Communicator as its flagship business device and showcases the new Symbian^3 operating system — and the first Microsoft business tools — ZDNet UK talked to Ilari Nurmi, the Nokia vice president responsible for business smartphones and business mobility strategy.

We asked him to explain what Nokia's pact with Microsoft means for Symbian business users, what is on the roadmap for next year and whether the agreement still makes sense now Windows Phone 7 is here.

Q: With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is a competitor to Nokia. Why does it make sense for Nokia to work with Microsoft? What are you actually working on together?
A: Our basic mobility strategy is to bring to market the best business smartphones for professionals. A cornerstone in our strategy is that we build the products so they work seamlessly with enterprise infrastructure, so we do a lot of work with companies like IBM and Microsoft and Cisco to make sure the products work together well.

One of the items we've been working on very heavily in the past 15 months is an extensive alliance with Microsoft. We obviously have a long history working in the area of email but 15 months ago we announced an alliance for the whole suite of productivity, communication and collaboration solutions that Microsoft has, so they will be brought into Nokia devices.

The first product coming out of that alliance is Microsoft Communicator Mobile and that is now available on the first Nokia Symbian smartphones.

So that's a client for Microsoft's unified communication server Lync. What Lync features does it support?
Presence and instant messaging in the corporate environment is something we are very excited about. The functionality that is offered today is presence and IM and obviously there will be further iterations with more functionality.

Which Nokia phones will it run on?
The Office Communicator client is available today on the E72, the E5 and the E52 and then it will be on the Symbian^3 family — it is not yet commercially available but it will be available in the upcoming weeks. I'm running it today — I've been running it since August on my E7. Microsoft is very good in software development and it does a very good job of making sure that the product is actually available.

So it is Microsoft that develops the Communicator client for Symbian?
Microsoft is a Symbian app developer. It has large numbers of developers writing software for the Nokia devices and they do it with their own operating system and with Nokia smartphones.

Why does that make sense? Why does Microsoft want the Lync client on Nokia phones so much that it's working so closely with you when it already has an iPhone Lync client coming next year? Does this tie in with Office 365 and the way Microsoft is moving Office to the cloud?
Microsoft's whole Office strategy is about [being on] PC, phone and browser, and we are, in practice, a majority of the phone part. The ability for them to extend the Office franchise into the phone part — we are obviously a major force in that.

If you look at the opportunities across the world — at south-east Asia, the Middle East, and India where Nokia has huge market share — there are a lot of small companies that don't necessarily run their own infrastructure but that might want to get access to some of these tools when they're all in the cloud. The opportunity for Microsoft to utilise Nokia's power to provide that capability is very strong.

Which other Office services are going to be on Nokia devices? Windows Phone 7 has a SharePoint client.
Communicator Mobile is the first product but we have a very broad range of Microsoft products being brought into our devices. We're very excited about...

...SharePoint. A lot of companies are using it very strongly in the fixed environment. Now with SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has built a mobile-optimised browsing capability for the programme. SharePoint intranet or SharePoint extranet sites, whatever companies are building, you're able to access those with the mobile browser [on Symbian] in a mobile optimised way.

The typical use case is you get a link in your email that says: "Go and look at this document on the intranet". That used to be broken. Now you're able to open it on the Nokia E7. You can look at the document, read the file and give your comments.

For SharePoint 2010 currently the mobile optimised view you get is the first step in the mobilisation of SharePoint. And there's plenty of exciting stuff to come. Think about the Office suite — the whole suite of products is being worked on. OneNote is one of the areas we're also looking into. There will be System Centre support for Nokia devices, and a lot of other things.

So that's not just client applications for business users. That's integrating with the Microsoft management tools in the IT department and proving that you work well with the platforms they use.
This is a multi-year alliance with Microsoft and for an enterprise IT decision maker, the deal gives it a sort of guarantee with its infrastructure choices. A Microsoft house can trust the fact Nokia devices will work with the infrastructure it's selected.

Nokia also has the only mobile implementation of Silverlight. Do you see that as being important for mobile business development on Symbian?
When it comes to development for the enterprise's own usage, we're focusing on two development environments in the future. One is HTML 5, which is a very good way of building apps that will work cross platform. Mobilisation of the intranet is one good way of mobilising a lot of the tools you need. I personally believe very strongly that this HTML 5 path is for the most part where a lot of companies will look. The other environment to build richer apps is our QT platform.

Today the apps I use with mobile on a daily basis are horizontal communications tools: email, presence, IM — the things you do to really communicate with people. The next thing that really helps a lot is the intranet access. You're able to get to the different intranet sites and to SharePoint. Silverlight is not something people knock on our door for today in that particular regard.

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