Before smartphones were mainstream, Microsoft's Windows Mobile was considered the OS for business smartphones. RIM's Blackberry stole away its market by becoming a better communication hub. iPhone and Android have since buried Blackberry by extending a phone's functionality with apps.
Yet, as Microsoft touts Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 as offering a full desktop-like experience, can the company again win over mobile business users?
What Does Microsoft Offer?
The workforce is becoming increasingly mobile. With so many businesses using Microsoft systems, workers need to access these systems from afar. Microsoft makes this possible with some key tools.
Microsoft Lync, an updated version of Office Communications Server, takes care of the communications needs. Lync provides group chat, Web conferencing, and software-based VoIP. Microsoft Sharepoint allows secure remote access to business data, which can be viewed and edited by Microsoft Office Mobile, the smartphone version of Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 collaboration suite. To prevent private business documents from being copied, edited, forwarded, or saved, the new Windows Phone 7.5 OS supports Information Rights Management (IRM) protection.
What About the Competition?
The capability to communicate with others--as well as to access, view, and edit data in Microsoft-based systems--isn't limited to Microsoft-based phones. Though the company's offerings for Android and iOS are limited, third-party solutions are numerous.
If you need to communicate with Microsoft Lync, Microsoft has said it will provide clients for both Android and iOS. Until then, Lync is a cross-platform client with full functionality. To access your SharePoint documents, the cross-platform SharePoint client SharePlus has all the important features. To view and edit documents, Quickoffice Pro is cross-platform and will handle most of your needs. The one area that isn't currently supported on Android or iOS is IRM.
Is Windows Phone the Answer?
Experts are saying Microsoft's mobile tools can provide a "desktop-like" experience to mobile users. For a company that makes its money providing the world's most popular desktop OS, that must seem important. The problem is, users are quickly adapting to mobile devices--and realizing that the mobile experience is and should be different.
Apple has evolved into a mobile company. Google is embracing mobile with Android to extend the cloud to as many users as possible. Despite offering needed tools on a mobile platform, however, Microsoft is still rooted in the desktop, which will limit its success in the mobile market.
For businesses that need a solution supported from the back end to the user's hand, or that includes IRM for confidentiality, Microsoft's Windows Phone makes that possible. For most businesses, though, things aren't so clear-cut. Workers have their own Android and iOS devices, and they want to use them to communicate as well as to access business data. Third-party solutions have become available to support these needs--and where they haven't, remote desktop options can provide full access to your desktop from any platform. That makes a Microsoft solution unnecessary for most.
The Windows Phone 7.5 interface is interesting, but no more so than that of Android or iOS. Partnering with Nokia was a bold move, but in the end will be like climbing into a sinking lifeboat. The mobile-market ship has sailed, and while business users will continue to use Microsoft's products, they will more frequently access them through the devices and operating systems of their competitors.
Joseph Fieber is an experienced blogger who spent 25 years as an IT pro, and has a background in computer consulting and software training. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or contact him through his website, JosephFieber.com.