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Microsoft's TechEd Keynote Message: Mobile First, Cloud First

Microsoft's Brad Anderson kicked off this year's TechEd with a breakdown of the company's latest unification push over multiple platforms. Interestingly, Windows RT doesn't look to be part of Microsoft's unified future.

Having just attended Brad Anderson's TechEd keynote address, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my impressions. I'm not going to rehash the keynote because it was about two hours long. Besides, I'm sure that there are plenty of others who are rehashing what was said. Instead, I want to tell you about the things that I found the most interesting.

The theme behind this year's keynote was "mobile first, cloud first." Although not specifically articulated in this way, the general theme was that mobile adoption and cloud adoption have occurred so quickly that very few controls are in place. As such, one of the big keynote themes was management for cloud and mobile devices. There was also a great deal of emphasis around application delivery.

I've written a lot lately about Microsoft's unification strategy and the goal of allowing users to work from just about any device. At the Build conference in April, Microsoft had announced an initiative that they are calling "Universal Windows Applications." The idea is that visual studio is being modified in a way that will allow developers to build an application and then be able to compile that application so that it runs on Windows 8, Windows Phone, Xbox One, etc. with about 90 percent of the application code being reusable across the various platforms.

Today Microsoft talked about this initiative, but it also discussed porting applications to competing platforms. Through one of its strategic partnerships, Microsoft is enabling .NET for use on iOS and Android. In doing so, about 70 percent of the code base will be reusable across platforms. Using .NET is preferable to coding apps in HTML  5 because it delivers a richer experience.

With all of this emphasis on app development, it would be easy to assume that Microsoft is only looking at the future and forgetting about existing applications, but that simply is not the case. One of the things that Microsoft is doing to make mobile device usage more practical is to use Windows Azure as a platform for running Windows applications. These applications will be able to run in the cloud and be delivered to end-user devices through Azure RemoteApp.

One of the things that I found to be especially interesting about the keynote was that there seemed to be a great deal of emphasis on iOS and Android, some emphasis on Windows Phone and absolutely no mention (unless I missed it) of Windows RT or the illusive Windows 9. I can't help but to wonder if Microsoft is trying to abandon Windows RT and move forward.

As I previously mentioned, there was also a lot of discussion around control for mobile devices. Some of this control centers around software as a service (SaaS). One of the demos involved using a mechanism within Windows Azure to detect and report which SaaS applications are being used by an organization's users. There was also a demo in which single sign-on capabilities were being delivered across SaaS applications.

Clearly identity management is going to become extremely important going forward if Microsoft is to deliver these types of capabilities, but device management is going to be equally important.

One of the big problems with mobile devices is that users are able to pick and choose which apps to install on the device. Most administrators would prefer that business data be confined to specific apps. For example, an administrator probably wouldn't want a user to open a confidential Excel spreadsheet in a dubious social networking application that just happens to support Excel.

That being the case, one of the really cool things that Microsoft is doing is to extend Windows Intune to offer better mobile app support. Administrators will be able to use policies to control which applications can be used for business data and where the data can be saved. Even on a platform such as the iPad it will be possible to restrict the applications that can open specific file types and to lock down functions such as copy and paste. In fact, copy and paste will be able to be enabled or disabled on a per-app basis, thereby preventing a user from pasting business data into an unauthorized app.

In the end, the message that I really took away from Microsoft's keynote was that Microsoft is doubling down on their investment in products or services such as Windows Azure, Visual Studio, and Windows Intune. There also seemed to be more of an acceptance for competing platforms. Multiple iPads were used in demos, but I never saw a single Windows RT tablet. It really kind of makes me wonder if Microsoft's goal of becoming a "devices and services" company is about to be changed to place far less emphasis on devices.

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