Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Gets Serious About Business (Again)

It has been said that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Sometimes however, repeating history (or at least going back to your roots) can be a good thing. In fact, Microsoft might be the perfect example of this idea.

At the risk of making myself look old, I have to confess that I was a child of the '80s. A lot has changed since back then, especially when it comes to technology. A lot of the big players back then aren't even in the game anymore.

One of the big things that was so different back then is that many of the computer companies catered to specific niche markets. I am of course generalizing here, but the computers of choice for home users were often the ubiquitous Commodore 64 or the Radio Shack Color Computer (which is what I had). At the time, Apple was all about educational environments, and the PC (and its Microsoft operating system) were primarily used in business environments. Of course that started changing as soon as IBM clones started bringing down the cost of PCs.

My point is that in the mid-1980s, much of Microsoft's success was directly related to corporate environments. Even today, if you put aside Xbox, Microsoft's most successful products seem to be Microsoft Office and their various server products.

The problem is that in recent years, Microsoft has tried to be all things to all people, and that strategy has failed miserably. Those wanting justification for such a bold statement need only look at products such as Microsoft Surface and Windows Phone. Don't get me wrong… Microsoft Surface and Windows Phone are both great products. It's just that the market seems to have squarely rejected them.

In my opinion, the problem with products such as Microsoft Surface and Windows Phone is that Microsoft has not targeted the devices to specific types of customers. Instead, they have produced general purpose devices. Unfortunately, Apple currently dominates the consumer space for smart phones and tablets and Microsoft has not given consumers a compelling reason to abandon their investments in iHardware in favor of a Windows powered device.

At the same time, businesses have also squarely rejected Microsoft's latest crop of hardware devices citing that the devices are simply too consumer oriented and lack some of the features that would make them good candidates for use in business environments.

One of the things that I noticed at TechEd last week was that Microsoft has finally seemed to realize that the only way to make their devices successful is to return to their roots and orient the devices toward business customers.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of this shift in strategy is Microsoft's announcement that they will soon begin including Outlook with Microsoft Surface RT tablets.  Back when the Surface tablet was first released, Microsoft took a lot of heat over the fact that Surface RT included Microsoft Office, but not Outlook. Microsoft's justification was that Surface was geared toward consumers, and that Outlook is a business application. Microsoft's decision to begin including Outlook on Surface RT tablets seems to suggest that Microsoft wants to promote Surface as a business tablet.

Some might be quick to point out that although Microsoft is adding Outlook to Surface RT, the devices still lack the ability to be domain joined.  However, that may not matter so much anymore.

In Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1, Microsoft is introducing the concept of workplace joins. Workplace joins are similar to domain joins in that they establish a device's identity on the network. The big difference between a workplace join and a domain join is that a user can workplace join their own device.

The ability to workplace join a device will be built into Windows 8, but apps for workplace joining a device will also be available for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. Users can download the required app free of charge through their device's app store.

To join a workplace, a user must simply launch the required app, enter their corporate e-mail address and click Join. A two factor authentication mechanism verifies the user's identity through other means . For example, the service might call a preconfigured phone number and verbally ask the user to enter a code on the phone's keypad to confirm that it really is them who is attempting to enroll the device.

When a device has been workplace joined it is provisioned with anything that the IT department makes available to BYOD users. This might include digital certificates, applications, or security settings.

If at a later time the user wants to stop using the device for work, they can use the same app that they used to join the workplace to leave the workplace. Doing so disables IT's management of the device and removes any certificates, applications, etc. that the IT department might have loaded onto the device. The nice thing about this approach is that corporate settings and apps are wiped from the device without removing the user's personal data and apps in the process.

The workplace join software is still in preproduction testing, and the bits have not been made publically available yet. Based on what I have seen so far though, I think that the concept of workplace joining devices will make it a lot easier for organizations to provide BYOD support. I also think that the simple fact that Microsoft is offering this capability proves that they understand the BYOD trend and are finally getting serious about their device's roles in corporate environments.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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