July 11, 2013, 4:54 PM — Microsoft said Wednesday that it planned to release an "enterprise feature pack" for corporations who wish to adopt Windows Phone, while extending the support lifecycle for Windows Phone 8 to 36 months, through 2016.
The new feature pack includes VPN functionality that will automatically trigger when protected resources are accessed, Microsoft said, plus S/MIME to sign and encrypt email and EAP-TLS enterprise Wi-Fi support. The pack will be released in the first half of 2014, Microsoft said in a blog post on Wednesday.
The real question, however, is whether Microsoft's carrier partners will allow the feature pack to be pushed to their customer's phones--or, at least, that was what virtually every commenter on Microsoft's post had in mind. Carriers typically review, test, and deploy new OS upgrades over a matter of months, with no guarantee that updates will actually be pushed to consumers.
And while Microsoft also extended the support lifecycle of Windows Phone 8, it did not extend that same courtesy to those who own Windows Phone 7 devices, making Microsoft's older platform less attractive. Microsoft will make updates, including security updates, available on WP7 phones for a total of 18 months, or until Sept. 9, 2014. At that point, they'll be forced to shift over to WP8 phones, which will be supported, including security updates, through Jan. 12, 2016. (TechHive has rounded up eight other reasons for upgrading to Windows Phone and WP8, and written a Windows Phone SuperGuide, to boot.)
In all, however, Microsoft hopes that businesses sign on to the Windows Phone platform with the same enthusiasm they've shown for Windows 8. (Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, told attendees at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference that 73% of enterprises are "current" on Windows.)
"By lengthening the Windows Phone support lifecycle policy and announcing the enterprise feature pack, we show Microsoft's commitment to the Windows Phone platform," Tony Mestres, vice president of Windows Phone partner and channel marketing, wrote. "This gives business customers the confidence to invest in Windows Phone today, with the knowledge that their investments are secure, and the platform is evolving to be an even better choice for business."
The full list of the enterprise feature pack includes:
- S/MIME to sign and encrypt email
- Access to corporate resources behind the firewall with app aware, auto-triggered VPN
- Enterprise Wi-Fi support with EAP-TLS
- Enhanced MDM policies to lock down functionality on the phone for more enterprise control, in addition to richer application management such as allowing or denying installation of certain apps
- Certificate management to enroll, update, and revoke certificates for user authentication
Nevertheless, some users were doubtful that they'd ever see what Microsoft promised. "This is all excellent news, and I can't wait for this to be available... but how will this feature pack be released?" a commenter named "GoodThings2Life" wrote. "Will we continue to be at the mercy of carriers and OEMs to publish this in a timely manner, or will it be available as a store app or customer-installable or enterprise-pushable update?
"I vividly remember Joe Belfiore saying at 2012 Build and again at the WP8 launch event how we would be able to participate in an Early Adopter style program, and that has yet to materialize for customers," the commenter added. "I would hate to see another situation where we're stuck waiting on OEMs and carriers."