Microsoft considering opening up device manager

Microsoft is considering opening up Mobile Device Manager to support non-Windows Mobile devices.

Microsoft's new Mobile Device Manager faces a shortcoming because it is exclusive to Windows Mobile devices, but that might change, an executive said this week.

Scott Horn, general manager at Microsoft's mobile and embedded device group, left the door open to potential future support for non-Windows Mobile devices.

"Today, we have nothing to announce," he said. "But we're looking at it, we're thinking about it. Who knows what the future brings." Horn spoke during a press lunch at the CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment conference in San Francisco this week.

He mentioned that Microsoft has in the past licensed Active Sync as a way to extend services to non-Microsoft devices.

Microsoft introduced System Center Mobile Device Manager at the conference. The software lets IT administrators manage and secure Windows Mobile phones. Unlike some other management products on the market, including Nokia's Intellisync, it is only compatible with phones running the Windows Mobile operating system.

Even if Microsoft does decide to open Mobile Device Manager, it's unclear that phone manufacturers would be interested in building in support for it, said a Nokia executive. Nokia currently licenses Active Sync because there is such a large installed base of Exchange users, said Tom Libretto, director of marketing for enterprise mobility solutions at Nokia. It allows users of certain Nokia devices to receive e-mail pushed from Exchange servers.

However, if Microsoft licensed a piece of management software to phone makers so that enterprises could also manage those phones from Mobile Device Manager, Libretto doesn't think phone makers would do it. "Who would license it? Until they take the technology and build it into Exchange Server as a function, there's no installed base so there's no impetus for us to license," he said. In addition, while Windows Mobile sales are growing, the phones only make up a relatively small percentage of the smart phone market, he said.

Nokia supports the OMA DM (Open Mobile Alliance Device Management) standard in its devices so that any standards-compliant management console can communicate with the devices. Windows Mobile does not, Libretto said. In Intellisync, Nokia had to build a separate client to install on Windows Mobile devices in order to support Windows Mobile phones in the management software, he said.

AT&T, which is supporting Mobile Device Manager, said there is inertia among IT administrators. IT managers are worried about security and management issues, said Mike Woodward, vice business marketing for AT&T. He thinks that the software as well as the services from a new company, Enterprise Mobile, will spur more enterprise use of mobile phones. Woodward could not offer specifics about how it will support Mobile Device Manager or how exactly it will work with Enterprise Mobile.

For now, the new software and the services from Enterprise Mobile, which help enterprises deploy and manage mobile phones, are designed for large businesses. Mobile Device Manager, expected to come out next year, could support as many as 5,000 users. Enterprise Mobile doesn't expect to begin thinking about serving smaller businesses for another 12 months to 18 months because it will be focused on making sure it knows what large enterprises need, said Steve Moore, president of Enterprise Mobile.

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