Anticipating use of Intune by larger organizations, Microsoft is outfitting the managed desktop service with a number of new capabilities that should make its use more appealing in enterprise settings.
"The first version of Windows Intune didn't have all the capabilities that all of our on-premise products do, so that slowed down adoption by larger customers," said Alex Heaton, Microsoft director of Intune. "With this next release we will add significant new capabilities that will make it attractive to larger customers."
A new Intune beta service, launched Monday, will offer the ability for administrators to distribute and install third-party software across their systems, Heaton said. The console can also be locked down for read-only access, allowing junior administrators, partners and business analysts to access information without giving them full rights to make changes.
Designed for organizations with limited IT help, Intune is a Microsoft-hosted service that monitors and updates Windows 7-based desktop and laptop computers. Subscribers of this service can update any desktop PCs running Windows XP to Windows 7 at no additional cost.
Microsoft formally launched the Intune hosted service in March after a yearlong beta. With the service, the customer is provided with an Internet-accessible console, from which all of an organization's computers can be managed. From this console, an administrator can apply Windows updates and patches, monitor PCs, manage security, keep inventory of PCs and remotely administer an ailing PC. From its own data centers, Microsoft will queue the updates, as well as manage all the back-end server software needed for administration duties.
Heaton would not reveal how many customers Intune has, though he noted that the average customer has 250 PCs or less. Recent customers include the California Strawberry Commission and industrial real estate broker IDI, which manages 250 computers with the service.
With the new beta, he explained, Microsoft is beginning to assemble additional services that could make it appealing to larger organizations, those businesses with thousands of desktops. While the beta still doesn't have all the features larger organizations require, it paves the way for such an offering in the years to come.
"I wouldn't say this is the release to make us enterprise-ready. Our strategy is to do frequent releases until we get to parity of our on-premise products," Heaton said.
One of the new features is software distribution. The current version of Intune can store and deploy Windows patches. The new version can do the same for any Windows program compiled with the .exe or .msi suffix. This will allow administrators to upload a program once and then have it installed across all the machines.
The functionality draws from Microsoft System Center, though it has an entirely different interface, Heaton said.
Other new features include the ability to scan a machine for viruses and malware without manual help from the user -- a step that was required before -- and the ability to tally all the copies of a given third-party software program, which can be handy for assuring software license compliance. Also, the user interface has been updated in various ways to make it more intuitive.
This new beta service, named Intune July 2011, will be run separately from the commercial version of Intune. Eventually, all the new features of the beta will be folded into the paid Intune service, which should take place by the end of this year, Heaton said.
Users of the current Intune service can try the beta of the new version of the service, though the beta service cannot be used on the same computers using the production version of Intune. Users of the commercial version of Intune will be able to use the new features after they have been incorporated into the paid service. At that time, beta users will be able to use the trial service for an additional 30 days. If they wish to use the paid version, they will need to set up their accounts again.