Thursday, April 28, 2011

Windows Phone 7 and the Enterprise

During the Easter holidays I’m trying to catch up with all the great content that was announced at MIX 11. Two very interesting improvements that Windows Phone users and developers can expect with the new Marketplace and App Hub in the Mango timeframe is focused on enterprise development.

The first one is the Beta Distribution Service. This allows developers to distribute pre-certified apps to an access-controlled set of beta users. How does it work?

  • The developer selects a list of up to 100 testers.( This number will probably change).
  • Developer sends an email to the designated testers that includes a private deeplink that points to the app in the Marketplace. This allows only the testers to access and download the content since the app is not discoverable in the Marketplace via Search.
  • Only testers selected in the App Hub based on their Windows Live ID can test the app and provide feedback for 90 days.
  • The beta cannot be updated. If you have multiple updates based on testing feedback, you must resubmit them like the first beta and send updated deeplinks to testers.
  • Testers won’t have to unlock their phone in order to beta test the apps.
  • Since there’s no certification requirement, there’s no latency between when you publish a beta app and when your private list of testers can access and download your content.
  • The cost of the beta app must be free.

The second one is the Private Distribution Service. This allows developers to privately distribute certified apps to a targeted group of users. How does it work?

  • The app must be certified by Microsoft before distributing.
  • Developer sends an email to the targeted group of users that includes a private deeplink that points to the app in the Marketplace. Keep in mind that the app is not discoverable in the Marketplace via Search by the general public.
  • A private app can be updated and pushed to the targeted group of users.
  • There are no limits on the number of users or the duration of time that those users can use the app.
  • There is no access enforcement based list of targeted users. In other words, if an employee at a company shares the deeplink with a fellow coworker, that new person can download the content. By including appropriate authentication and authorization mechanisms in published apps, you can prevent unwanted users from being able to do anything with the app.
  • Private apps can be free or paid
  • These private apps can be published to the public Marketplace at any time.

It isn’t yet a real enterprise software distribution system, but it already overcomes the single-biggest blocker that companies have when creating and publishing apps for Windows Phone. They don’t want their private corporate apps publicly viewable and/or accessible by the broad general public searching for apps in the public Marketplace.

This means IT departments will be able to build undiscoverable Windows Phone apps for private internal use by the users they designate. Some of the administrative issues around software distribution can be alleviated by having a corporate IT authority publish Beta and Private apps via a single Windows Live ID. That publishing administrator can then map users, groups or roles to existing or new Windows Live IDs of employees that need to use the app. That administrator will be able maintain the application lifecycle through beta testing, publishing, updating and decommissioning.

Can’t wait until the Mango update is out there!

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