How do Windows Phone 7 features stack up?

As Windows Phone 7 features improve, more devices may make their way into the workplace. Encryption and app integration help Windows Phone 7 put up a fight, but it isn’t flawless.

Although new Windows Phone 7 features focus on consumers instead of business users, the OS’s enterprise management features seem to get better at every update.

Windows Mobile was an enterprise platform, much like Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry smartphones and BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). But today, the mobile device world revolves around consumers. Manufacturers try to wow consumers with easy-to-use features that people want for everyday use, plus fun apps and great designs. Unfortunately, a great consumer OS doesn’t necessarily translate to a manageable enterprise platform. So how do Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 stack up against the BlackBerry operating system, Android and Apple iOS?

Fewer management options, better Windows Phone 7 features

The Windows Phone operating system is what Microsoft calls a light management OS, as are Android and iOS, according to Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager 2012. Light management breaks away from the full Exchange ActiveSync management of the past. With the old Windows Mobile, there were many more ActiveSync features that IT could use to control devices. But the new, light management Windows Phone 7 features integrate better with other enterprise software from Microsoft.

Light management OSes still have ActiveSync features that allow IT admins to set password requirements such as complexity, reuse history and retires. IT can also enforce remote wipe and wipe data after a set number of incorrect tries, but these Windows Phone 7 features are all policies IT can require of iOS and Android devices too.

Unique Windows Phone 7 features are Windows Rights Management (WRM) and native Microsoft apps. WRM encrypts files and emails and ensures that data isn’t forwarded outside of your organization.

The Outlook email client is integrated with Windows Phone 7 and 7.5. Users accustomed to the desktop version will have a familiar email experience. Outlook on Windows Phone 7 features to-dos, calendaring, out-of-office notices and easy keyword searching.

Built-in SharePoint integration that comes with Windows Phone 7 is a boon for any SharePoint shop because it provides access via SharePoint Spaces outside of the firewall. Lync provides presence services, giving users the ability to round up an ad-hoc team at the office and take advantage of video conferencing.  And for document editing and sharing, Office software and Office 365 are included Windows Phone 7 features. Users can quickly edit Word, Excel or PowerPoint files and use the cloud services of Office 365 to save directly to Microsoft SkyDrive.

While Lync, Office, Office 365 and SkyDrive are all available to phones on other operating systems, users have to download them as third-party apps. Windows Phone 7 features native apps that offer integration that isn’t available from third-party apps.

Managing apps with Windows Phone 7 features

Microsoft only uses the Windows Phone Marketplace to distribute applications, similar to the way Apple’s App Store operates. Only approved apps make it into the Marketplace, which improves security. App stores that don’t vet or control app submissions can carry malware that can endanger enterprise assets, data and user devices.

If you want to distribute a specific app to your enterprise users, you can privately publish an app to the Windows Phone Marketplace, creating a private marketplace. The private marketplace is a unified way to distribute custom apps without the need for your own infrastructure or complex instructions.

Users access private apps through a deep link they receive from IT. Admins can push the deep link to users through email, which can be a drawback to the private marketplace. When you email users the link, there isn’t a way to make users download the app the way you could with Apple’s App Store and mobile device management server.  Plus, anyone in possession of the deep link can access the app unless it was built using a method that requires users have an application ID, password and application registry key to unlock the app.

Android allows IT to set up an enterprise app store, and BES lets admins distribute software to managed BlackBerry devices.

Does Windows Phone 7 have a fragmentation problem?

One issue that dogs Android is fragmentation. Carriers have different phone models running different versions of the Android operating system, which can create support issues for IT. Problems with bugs, custom apps, system updates and security holes are harder to fix across a wide variety of devices with differing versions of the same OS.

Windows Phone 7 doesn’t support tons of hardware configurations the way Android does, but for both of these OSes, the device manufacturers and carriers control updates. Though carrier control was supposed to be a non-issue according to Microsoft, wireless carriers can elect not to carry an update, which prevents bug fixes from reaching end users.

RIM and Apple offer better consistency across mobile devices, including the ability to control and release operating system updates, than Windows Phone 7 and Android do.

What is the deciding factor?

IT can manage Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 in much the same way as it does Android and iOS devices. ActiveSync control via Microsoft Exchange and essential controls like remote wipe or requiring passwords to unlock the device give the light management OSes limited, but good control options.

More on Windows Phone 7 features

Windows Phone 7 features: Is Windows Phone 7 enterprise ready?

Windows Phone 7.5 app distribution program lets IT take control

Windows Phone 7 improvements should entice Exchange admins

Security considerations for Windows Phone 7

BlackBerry holds the features crown from a deeper manageability standpoint. But being able to control every angle of users’ devices can be counterintuitive given the influx of consumer technology in the enterprise.

Windows Phone 7 features make managing access to corporate data in a Microsoft-centric environment much easier with WRM, SharePoint Spaces, Office apps and SkyDrive integration. The app protection IT gets from the Microsoft Marketplace is great, but lacks Apple and BlackBerry’s ability to push apps to devices without user interaction.

IT gets more control over iOS devices with the ability block Web browser use and to push profiles to devices without user interaction. BES affords IT the most control.

Users in a Microsoft enterprise environment benefit from the integration that they get from Windows Phone, but from an IT perspective, Windows Phone 7 features are still catching up to RIM’s BES and Apple’s iOS.

This was first published in April 2012

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