Q&A with Ron Barrett: App Management in the Cloud

With the proliferation of different device types, managing applications in the cloud promises to simplify the management of those apps. Microsoft offers various cloud options for doing so, including System Center Configuration Manager 2012, Windows Intune and Windows Azure. Ron Barrett, a technical architect at Gotham Technology Group LLC and an upcoming sessions speaker at this year's Live!360, knows how to use each of these offerings to support the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement that's reshaping IT and takes some time to share some of his wisdom.

Q: Windows Intune sounds like it will be a key way IT manages Windows RT devices. Is this a good thing?
A:
In the BYOD era we live in, Windows Intune paired with Configuration Manager 2012 is definitely the way to go to manage not only Windows RT devices but any device a user wants to attach to the corporate network in some way.

Q: How does it work?
A:
Windows Intune is a subscription-based, cloud-based security, systems management and Windows upgrade platform all rolled into one. Because Windows Intune uses Active Directory Domain Services and Microsoft Online Services Directory to synchronize user accounts and security groups -- and integrates with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync -- IT has the ability to upgrade, manage and patch devices that aren't directly connected to the corporate infrastructure.

Q: Can Windows Intune also manage Windows 8?
A:
Windows upgrades are included in the subscription, so Windows Intune will both provide the upgrade to Windows 8 and allow you to manage that system as well.

Q: That said, is this a good way to go?
A:
For the small to midsize business that struggles with the manpower and budget to implement a full systems-management solution like Configuration Manager, Windows Intune is the way to go. But the midsize- to enterprise-level customer can also reap benefits. Using Windows Intune, Configuration Manager 2012 and Windows Azure together can allow you to not only securely manage remote devices -- the ActiveSync technology also allows you to manage any device, corporate or private. With more and more personal devices coming into the workplace and storing corporate data on them, Windows Intune can be a great tool to manage and protect data while keeping people productive remotely.

Q: What's cool about Windows Intune?
A:
Coming with Configuration Manager SP1, Windows Intune will be able to deliver Windows 8 apps via the app store and a method called deep linking, which I'll explain in my session. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson explained this delivery model at the Microsoft Management Summit 2012 in Las Vegas this year. It doesn't stop there. Microsoft is looking to use Configuration Manager 2012 and Windows Intune to deliver apps to users on any device -- Android or iOS, whatever, wherever! That's not only the coolest thing about Windows Intune -- it's perhaps the coolest thing I can think of going on in the systems management space.

If heading out to Orlando for this year's Live! 360 event in December, make sure to catch Ron's workshop, "Configuration Manager 2012 and Windows Intune: Taking Application Management to the Cloud."

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/17/2012 at 1:19 PM0 comments


Doug's Mailbag: Microsoft Playing Copycat?

Readers chime in on whether or not Microsoft's hardware push is an attempt to imitate Apple:

I think Microsoft is absolutely green with Apple envy and it is blinding them. Apple has always been a consumer products company while Microsoft has been focused on enterprise software. Trying to do better in the consumer market and compete with Apple is all well and good, but a lot of people are starting to feel with Windows 8 that this is a tablet OS that is being forced onto desktops and servers -- and it doesn't really fit. Apple products are nifty and look nice, but if they don't do what you want them to, you're out of luck. Microsoft's strength has always been the developer community and partners building an ecosystem around its enterprise offerings -- and it's been so successful in this market that it has become the only game in town for serious businesses. I would love to see Microsoft STOP TRYING TO BE APPLE.
-Dan

I disagree here. Apple is closed software, closed hardware and we'll sue you out of existence if you mimic us. No, this is similar to what Google is doing with the Nexus line to give consumers a pure Android experience in a world of fragmented OEM UIs. Windows tablets made by OEMs are boring so Microsoft is offering consumers a more progressive vision. Microsoft is rumored to be considering this in phones but Nokia, Samsung and HTC finally appear to be pumping out flagship models so this may not be needed.
-Anonymous

It's about time Microsoft started making PCs! Doug, you hit this right on the head about Apples successes. Controlling both the hardware and software is more of an advantage than most people realize. I hope Microsoft will take another leaf from Apple's book and spend tons of time tweaking firmware and drivers to make its devices snappy and responsive.
-Chris

I am not sure how Microsoft is flattering Apple. Microsoft has made hardware for years but just not PCs. Actually, Microsoft and Apple don't really manufacture anything, they both are outsourcing the actual fabrication to Foxconn in China. I agree with your Xbox observation, it has and remains an excellent source of entertainment that continues to improve with age.
-Robert

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to dbarney@redmondmag.com. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/17/2012 at 1:19 PM1 comments


Call for Exchange 2013 Input

Are you testing Exchange 2013? If so I want to talk to you for a future article. E-mail me at dbarney@redmondmag.com and I'll hit you back with a bunch of questions.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/16/2012 at 1:19 PM0 comments


Exchange, Office, Lync and SharePoint 2013 All in 2012?

When Microsoft decided to name products after years, and then to keep pre-announcing products, it gave itself a challenge -- ship in the year the product is named after or suffer minor embarrassment.

It looks like 2013 versions of Lync, SharePoint, Office and Exchange will all arrive this year. All have been released to manufacturing, which means they are essentially done. And while most won't be able to buy these 'til early next year, insiders such as volume licensees, MSDN subscribers and TechNet subscribers should be able to get them all next month. Oddly, the products are available for volume licensees in mid-November, but pricing won't be announced for another two weeks. Hmmm.

Project and Visio 2013 are also on the same schedule.

It's awfully interesting how all these products are on the same schedule. This points to real discipline by Microsoft in market development.

Office 2013 is compatible with Windows 8, but only works with the older-style Desktop interface and is mostly not yet optimized for "Metro."

Which of these products are you most interested in? Explain at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/15/2012 at 1:19 PM0 comments


Q&A with Don Jones: What To Expect from an Office 365 Migration

Don Jones, author of Redmond's Decision Maker column, went through an Office 365 migration with his company, Concentrated Technology LLC. Ahead of his similarly themed session at this year's Live! 360, Don shares some of the highs and lows of the Office 365 move.

Q: How was the initial set up?
A:
Mostly easy. We kind of screwed up and started a trial in the beta period, which we couldn't carry over to production, so have a weird account name now, but nobody sees that. We needed to learn a bit of Windows PowerShell to bulk-import our external address list, but it's a well-documented procedure -- and pretty neat once you've got it figured out.

Q: Were there any surprises?
A:
The need to use Windows PowerShell for some stuff. While I'm obviously a fan, it's not what Office 365 is marketed as. I imagine the Web UI will pick up more of that functionality over time -- just go in with your eyes open, and know that for a few tasks you might need to dive into the command line. The Lync Online piece was also a little dicey in the beginning, but that seems to have smoothed out now. It's working pretty reliably across Windows, Mac and even smartphones for us.

Q: You're an IT pro. How do you think a typical small business would handle it?
A: Pretty well. For the most part, it's no harder to set up and use than something like Gmail, and I like the interface a heck of a lot more.

Q: What advice would you give to Microsoft in order to broaden the Office 365 footprint in small businesses?
A:
Integrate Live Meeting in some fashion. Lync isn't great for conducting online meetings with people from outside your organization, so we still maintain a GoToMeeting account. As an MVP, I get a free Live Meeting account -- I'd love to see that made part of the overall Office 365 offering. Aside from that, frankly, I'm not sure why a small organization wouldn't choose Office 365. It's less expensive than on-premises, easier to manage and, unless you've got some specific security issues that Microsoft hasn't yet addressed -- and the company has already worked out a government-ready offering -- it's a great product.

If heading out to Orlando for year's Live! 360 even in December, make sure to catch Don's workshop, "Lessons Learned in a Small Business Office 365 Migration."

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/15/2012 at 1:19 PM0 comments


Windows 8 Hardware Pricing

I am generally pleased with PC pricing. Windows netbooks start around $200 and functioning laptops come in at about a hundred bucks more.

But the first wave of Windows 8 devices breaks that pattern. The price leader so far is a $500 unit from Acer which doesn't have a keyboard. And it is the keyboard that turns the tablet into an actual computer (and, in my view, gives them an edge over the iPad).

Another tablet getting hyped is a $1,100 unit from Lenovo. Not terribly aggressive.

My guess (or hope) is the newest machines are premium first efforts and the large PC OEM base will do what they've done elsewhere and drive prices down. Six months from now I expect a bevy of affordable Win 8 machines. What do you expect? Share at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/15/2012 at 1:19 PM1 comments


Win 8 Upgrades On Sale

If you are a Windows 7 consumer you can now pre-order and pay for Windows 8, available Oct 26. If you want the DVD version (handy when it comes time to rebuild -- which you know will be necessary at some time) it'll cost about $70. A downloadable upgrade is about $40 for Windows 7 users.

If these upgrades sound enticing, don't dilly dally. These prices are only good 'til the end of the year. After that the prices shoot up to a jaw-dropping $200. With Win 8 tablets expected to start at around $300 you may be better off buying a new machine.

What are your Win 8 upgrade plans? Detail them by writing to me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/15/2012 at 1:19 PM2 comments


Microsoft Flatters Apple with Imitation

Microsoft unveiled the new Microsoft without a lot of fanfare. In fact, it was played out in a letter to shareholders -- rather than the company's typical blow out, big city events.

What used to be a packaged software company (remember when software came in boxes?) is now a devices and services company, says the letter from Steve Ballmer.

Two issues are worth noting: First, Microsoft truly sees the cloud taking over. If Microsoft can make as much or more as on-premises gives way to service providers, that will be an amazing feat.

This is just the type of opening that kills old companies and births new ones. Here Azure and Office 365 are doing the heavy lifting, and we'll be watching these two pretty carefully.

The devices mandate is more of a shock. Microsoft isn't just dipping its toe in with Surface, it's ducking its whole head in!

While Ballmer claims Redmond will still rely on OEMs for the bulk of products while Microsoft focuses on "specific devices for specific purposes," it is clear that Microsoft intends to be a full-on hardware company.

It is pretty obvious to me that Ballmer sees the unrivaled success of Apple, which builds hardware around its software and produces products that just plain work. I've bought a lot of Macs, an iPhone (for my son Nick!), an iPad (taken over by Nick who uses it as the family camera) and iPods. The only devices that let me down are the sketchy iPods (the iBreak). And once these suckers go south, there's no choice but to toss 'em.

Microsoft also saw how stable and impressive the Xbox has been and now wants to do the same with PCs.

I for one welcome the change. I'm really starting to think that Microsoft-built machines without the Intel legacy could be just the way to get rid of all this flaky Windows behavior. Does it make any sense that Windows is now over a quarter of a century old and my Windows 7 machine goes south when on too long, leaving me to recover all my crashed Office docs? This is more embarrassing than an Adam Sandler comedy. Have you seen Jack and Jill? Rotten Tomatoes ran out of fruit with that one!

Do you like Microsoft's hardware moves and does the company have a compelling cloud story? Answers to each equally welcome at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/12/2012 at 1:19 PM11 comments


Windows 8 Updated Before It Ships

Usually a product is commercially available before it gets its first cumulative update. Not so with Windows 8. It just received such an update, available through MSDN (or more simply through Windows Update).

The already shipping Windows Server 2012 was also graced with an update.

In the case of Windows 8, there aren't just fixes, but improvements. The device drivers are more backwards compatible, battery life is beefed, apps will run faster, and video and audio should be higher quality.

The fact that an update is out before Windows 8 ships and one for Windows Server 2012 is released so soon after its release points to faster testing by the folks in Redmond, says Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's president of the Windows Division.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/12/2012 at 1:19 PM1 comments


Light Patch Batch

This month's Patch Tuesday is almost shockingly small with just one "critical" flaw. The flaw is yet another remote code execution (RCE) hole. This time the lure is a Rich Text file that, if opened or just viewed, can give the hacker your user privileges. The good news is it hasn't been exploited yet -- so if you haven't installed the patch you still have time. Experts, however, believe there are those that are working on attacks as we speak, so don't dilly dally too long.

There were also six important bulletins, including more RCE flaws, an elevation of privilege issue, a cross scripting flaw and a denial-of-service problem.

How does Microsoft's very public patching approach compare to other vendors? Answers welcome at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/10/2012 at 1:19 PM2 comments


Windows Phone 8 Arriving Just Before Halloween

Windows Phone 8 will apparently be launched Oct 29, two days before Halloween. But this launch doesn't mean what you may think it does --  the phones won't be ready for sale. That won't happen till after sometime later this year.

Scheduling must have been tricky, as Windows 8 and Surface devices are supposed to actually ship on Oct 26.

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/10/2012 at 1:19 PM1 comments


Windows Server 2012 Essentials Done

Trailing its big brother by two months, Windows Server 2012 Essentials is finished and was sent to hardware makers this week (Release to Manufacturing).

It's odd there is this lag behind Windows Server 2012, but with hardware makers expected to have it in the market next month, it surely qualifies for the 2012 handle.

Essentials is what was formerly known as Small Business Server 2011. As is now customary, Microsoft changes appellations for no apparent reason.

Essentials is both more and less than Windows Server 2012 delivers. On the lesser side, it can't handle as many users -- just 25. It also can't be set up with the GUI-less Server Core configuration. And while its predecessor came with Exchange, now that must be bought separately.

On the more side, many items were designed with lesser-experienced IT types in mind. Certain server roles such as IIS and Active Directory come already turned on. Also, hooking up to Redmond cloud services is also designed to be as easy as possible.

The dashboard interface is clearly for the newer IT person (or an in-house manager for whom IT is not a full-time job). There are tabs that offer shortcuts to common areas of need such as "Applications," "Storage," "Users" and "Devices."

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/10/2012 at 1:19 PM3 comments


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