Microsoft today released the beta of Windows Intune, a cloud-based tool that manages desktops for midsized businesses. With it, for the first time, the company is making its desktop virtulization tools, Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, available to customers that do not have a Software Assurance license.
A core feature of MDOP is App-V, a desktop virtualization tool created by Softricity. Microsoft acquired Softricity in 2006 and restricted App-V only to users who bought its Software Assurance licenses. Indeed, many said that MDOP, which includes a number of other virtualization tools, was one of the best reasons to sign on for SA altogether.
Today, Windows Intune, a cloud-based management tool, was released to a limited-edition beta that includes MDOP.
"The benefits that Windows Intune customers get are similar to Microsoft Software Assurance program for Windows. Customers do not need a SA agreement to access the MDOP tools available as part of Windows Intune. It's a great alternative for customers who don't need SA but still want the tools," a Microsoft spokesperson told Network World.
On top of that, Windows Intune also includes Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights that lets you standardize your PC’s on a single version of Windows to create a more manageable PC environment.
Microsoft says Intune is ideally suited to manage PCs in mid-sized businesses of between 25 and 500 desktops. It brings together in one Web-based dashboard, management tools to deliver updates, protect PCs from malware, set security policies, provide remote assistance and track hardware and software inventory, among other tasks.
Microsoft's Brad LeBlanc, the Windows communications manager, described the target market for Intune on his company blog.
"Many of these companies don’t have the resources or budget to set up and maintain an on-premise desktop management infrastructure and they want enterprise-class solutions. They’ve been coming to us asking for a solution that will meet their specific needs and budget," LeBlanc wrote. Microsoft is seeing increased adoption of cloud computing from mid-sized businesses seeking to improve IT capabilities at a lower upfront cost than on-premise infrastructure solutions, he added.
The limited release is to about 1,000 customers and IT partners in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. General availability of Intune is expected within one year from now, although pricing information isn't yet available this early, said the Microsoft spokeswoman. However, being a cloud service, Intune will be sold as a subscription. When Intune goes GA, customers can sign up for it through the company's Online Services Web site.
Intune supports Windows shops running these operating systems: 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate and Professional; Vista Enterprise, Ultimate and Business; and XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed, though Service Pack 3 is recommended, the spokeswoman said.
Besides MDOP, Intune will also work alongside Windows System Center Essentials for on-premise desktop management.
Network World partner IDG News Service quotes Microsoft group product marketing manager Sandrine Skinner as saying that Intune streamlines management functions by moving them to a hosted environment eliminating the need to set up and manage on-premise management software, although client software will have to be installed on each PC to enable the service.
Microsoft is turning its giant aircraft carrier of a business, slowly and surely, from a license model to the cloud model and the launch of Intune turns the helm just a few more degrees further in that new direction. If you've obtained a beta version of Intune, let us know how it's working for you.
Julie Bort contributed to this post.
Robert Mullins is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. He has been writing about technology from Silicon Valley for more than a decade. He has covered such beats as network security, servers, storage, software development, telecommunications and, of course, Microsoft, for a variety of publications, most notably the IDG News Service and Network World.