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Microsoft’s enterprise mobility March

by User Not Found | Apr 01, 2015

Microsoft’s been busy the past few weeks in the mobility market — from an acquisition and partnerships deals, to new SaaS licensing schemes, aimed at putting more Office 365 business tools on smartphones and tablets. All of these piecemeal initiatives — each having occurred separately, towards, or just before the end of March — add up to a larger picture of Microsoft’s ambitions as a key mobile enterprise infrastructure player. 

Free Office 365 hits the small screen

On March 30, Microsoft announced that its Office 365 suite of applications would continue to be free on devices with screens smaller than 10.1 inches — essentially, all smartphones and phablets, and most tablets. The move delineates on what type of device a premium, professional Office experience (with rich features and power-user capabilities) differs from a “consumer-like” experience, with only basic file viewing and editing capabilities. Microsoft’s plan is to entice users on smaller screens with the free Office 365 experience, and ultimately get them to buy the paid version for larger devices. (Microsoft incidentally, the recently-released Surface 3 tablet, and the previous Surface Pro 3 both have screens larger than 10.1 inches, requiring the full Office 365 license). 

From an enterprise perspective, the move will appeal to business smartphone users who’ve been frustrated in the past by not being able to view or lightly edit MS Office files on smartphones (think of a presentation, proposal or data table that could use just one tiny tweak before a flight takes off, and the laptop is shut off and stowed). Certainly, demand is much lower for the ability to build large, rich presentations or complex financial models on a smartphone. 

The bet on more Office 365 revenue from users of larger tablets and hybrid tablet/laptops may pan out; Strategy Analytics forecasts tablets that are 11” or higher will be the fastest growing segment by screen size over the next five years. However, the majority of the market — eight out of 10 devices shipped — is still made up of screen sizes smaller than 10 inches, a trend forecasted to continue through 2018. That’s a lot of tablet users out there, potentially using free Office 365. Microsoft’s goal clearly is not to make money off of every user on every form factor, just to convert the free small-screen users to paid when they need to do more with the software. 

MDM is added to the Office 365 “freemium” approach

 Along with the free Office 365 for small screens, Microsoft on the same day announced free, enterprise-focused mobile device management (MDM) enhancements for is premier SaaS platform. Commercial Office 365 SaaS plans will now get three key MDM features:

  • Remote data wipe of Office 365-associated data on mobile device; 
  • Device-level locking enforcement via PIN
  • Access restriction of Office 365 data to corporate-liable devices only

Commercial Office 365 SaaS plans include Business, Enterprise, Government and EDU versions of the SaaS product. Similar to its small-screen Office 365 strategy, this “freemium” move in the enterprise aims to hook enterprise IT teams on the basics of MDM and device control via Office 365, then lead these customers to more advanced options at a higher per-seat price point. Organizations that get their feet wet with built-in Office 365 MDM could quickly see the value of a $6 per-seat upgrade to add the mobile application management (MAM), enhanced network access controls and extended device management (Windows PCs) that comes with the upgrade. For some organizaitons heavily invested in Office 365, these MDM offerings could be enough to get enterprise IT departmetns to think of Microosft as a core MEM provider, as opposed to third-party speicalists in the MEM market. Organizations looking to unify all endpoint management and secruity funcitons -- from Windows PCs and laptops to mobile devices -- are primary candidates for this approach.  

Startup buyout for mobile collaboration 

In another mobility-focused move, just before these Office 365 announcements, Microsoft quietly acquired, LiveLoop, a San Francisco-based startup which makes mobile collaboration enhancement tools for Microsoft PowerPoint files. While a seemingly a one-trick pony, LiveLoop solves a number of issues business users encounter with working with the familiar “.ppt” and “.pptx” files on mobile devices — sharing large files over email (which is often difficult due to file size limitations of some corporate email systems). LiveLoop can also act as a quickie remote presentation and meeting platform, without requiring client-side software agents or apps. Microsoft kept quiet about its LiveLoop purchase; no official announcement was made, so pricing was not disclosed. 

Proceeding with partnerships 

Microsoft’s March in enterprise mobility also included two new partnerships announced month with mobile enterprise management (MEM) provider Good Technology and device OEM Samsung prove this out. 

In its partnership with Good Technology, Microsoft announced expanded plans for enterprise device management support (Surface Tablets running Windows 8.1 are now supported on Good’s MDM platform) and a software development support (a software development kit for building Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 on Good MEM platforms was also announced). Additionally, users of the Good Work platform can now save Microsoft documents to OneDrive for Business — an enterprise-focused cloud storage service. With Samsung, Microsoft is pushing more enterprise software features and packages into the “out-of-the-box” level with corporate users. In a March deal with Samsung and several of its channel distribution partners, Microsoft Office 365 Business, Business Premium and Enterprise SaaS can now be pre-bundled with Samsung tablet which support Knox security technology. 

When it comes to the mobile enterprise, Microsoft’s core OS technology is not the Alpha and Omega of computing, as it was in the client/server heyday. However, Microsoft can continue to thrive as a provider of valuable business tools for corporate workers, and back-end management and control platforms for enterprise IT. With tis recent freemium strategy, tuck-in collaboration acquisition and solutions/OEM partnerships, the software maker appears to have a pragmatic strategy for establishing its various technologies as foundational building blocks to an a mobile enterprise architecture.

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