Microsoft's downwardly mobile plans for enterprise

The software giant's new mobile strategy seems curiously light on enterprise features. This is no oversight
Written by Leader , Contributor

Ancient sages said that there are three things that may not be known: from whence the wind comes, the mind of a woman, and Microsoft's mobile strategy.

Those were misogynistic, pre-meteorological times. For some time now, we've had weather forecasts and gender studies — leaving only mobile strategy beyond the reach of even the keenest thinkers. Why did Microsoft's systems division constantly ignore mobile, even as the official line was integration and convergence? Who thought it acceptable that, in the age of the iPhone, Windows Mobile should have an interface largely inherited from Windows 3.1? Why was nothing happening?

We still don't have answers for these. We do know, though, that the reset button was pushed about a year ago and Windows Mobile restarted from scratch. This explains why the 'launch' of Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7S) at Mobile World Congress looked more like an interactive demo than a working system: there's only so much you can do in a year.

While Microsoft hasn't said yet what's under the hood of WP7S, there are good reasons to believe it to be Silverlight, the company's interactive multimedia programmable platform. Which may or may not be a sensible decision for a phone, but is certainly not compatible with the old Windows Mobile.

Plus, nearly everything demonstrated — and nearly every aspect of the marketing message — was aimed at consumers. Enterprise was brushed off in a couple of minutes with a 'good as Outlook' email client and a promise of SharePoint integration. ActiveSync? Office? Hello?

There are theories about the future of Microsoft's mobile enterprise — a field the company will not want to cede to anyone else. One is that the old Windows Mobile will continue as an Enterprise Edition, stuck in a timewarp, doing lowest denominator calendaring and email access as it has always done. Another is that there will be enterprise variants of WP7S. Neither is well attested by Microsoft's marketing, which is consumer, consumer, consumer.

The best explanation — and the one with the most profound consequences — is that Microsoft has begun to see the end user within the enterprise as just another consumer, directly addressable by the company and almost detachable from corporate IT.

If Microsoft is going to sell hosted, cloudy versions of all its run-of-business enterprise apps and sell them to companies as web applications, then they'll work perfectly well on the 7 Series as-is — and on the equivalent, Silverlight-enabled desktop, tablet, MID or whatever. Because Microsoft will be running all the software, there'll be no need for local support: the IT department will be a bunch of developers building back-end systems. And we may guess how widely Microsoft's support for non-Windows handsets will run.

So the lack of an enterprise mobile version isn't an oversight, or to come later, or a sign that something completely separate is going to happen. Microsoft has decided that the enterprise client, as distinguishable from consumer, is dead.

Now all it has to do is work out how to keep selling the corpse.

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