Microsoft has announced System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, its first server-based tool for managing and securing Windows Mobile devices.
It has also hinted at a new version of the mobile operating system for release early next year.
System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (SCMDM), which will interoperate with an as-yet unspecified future version of Windows Mobile, will aid the management of handsets that have been provided by employers, as well as those personal devices brought in by employees, according to Microsoft.
The product, which will also include a mobile VPN feature, was announced on Tuesday at the CTIA Wireless conference in San Francisco by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
Analysts believe Tuesday's announcement will take Microsoft into the bulk-provisioning territory currently dominated by its rival RIM, manufacturer of the BlackBerry smartphone and software.
"The IT folks, the same as it was in the PC environment, don't want to roll out 10,000 devices. They want to roll out one device 10,000 times," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg, according to Reuters. "Microsoft is hoping to replicate the success and the model of the PC."
"System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 is the first server product we've released that's been built purely for managing and securing Windows Mobile devices," said Jason Langridge, Microsoft's UK mobility business manager. "We think it really shows the maturity of the mobile industry and the opportunity to unlock the potential for mobile deployment with our business customers."
Langridge claimed that SCMDM would allow an administrator to quickly provision any compatible Windows Mobile device over the air, thereby making that device part of the company's active directory and enabling the application of over 130 group policies to the handset. "We can control functions like being able to disable the camera, switch on encryption, turn off Wi-Fi or even enable certain Bluetooth profiles -- you might want them to be able to use the handset with a headset but not transfer files," he said.
Through integration with the Windows Server system, applications can be blacklisted or whitelisted, suggested Langridge. "When we provision this device we can enable a mobile VPN, which will then channel all traffic through the corporate network. We can control access to the Internet through an organisation's existing server environment," he added.
Referring to a "growing consumerisation of IT", Langridge said SCMDM would give administrators the "flexibility of supporting enterprise-provisioned devices as well as bringing in 'backdoor' devices if they choose to".
"If someone were to lose their device while out of the country on business, they could literally buy a new device in [a] store and have it up and running [through over-the-air provisioning] within minutes," Langridge added.
"[SCMDM] also supports session and maintenance, so, if I go in a list and lose connectivity, then my device will not lose the session," said Langridge. "We're really excited about what this means, which is allowing customers to manage devices through their existing server infrastructure in the same way that they do PCs."
However, SCMDM will only work with a new version of Windows Mobile and new devices supporting that version, which are both scheduled for release in the first half of next year. Windows Mobile 6.1 is rumoured to be released at around that time, sporting a significant refresh of the user interface, but Langridge refused to be drawn on that speculation.
"I can't comment on information that we haven't officially announced," Langridge said. "We're talking about a future version of Windows Mobile -- no product names -- but all new Windows Mobile phones will support [SCMDM]".
According to Langridge, manufacturers including HTC, Samsung, Palm and Motorola will be bringing out devices sporting the new version of Windows Mobile next year.
Asked about the compatibility of SCMDM with non-Windows devices, a Microsoft spokesperson said that SCMDM was "designed for Windows Mobile devices".