10 questions for Windows Mobile expert Mort Rosenthal

In our ongoing "10 questions for" series, Microsoft Subnet talked with 2001 Computer Industry Hall of Fame inductee Mort

Rosenthal. Rosenthal is the CEO of a young company named Enterprise Mobile, which has the mission of bringing Windows Mobility to every enterprise. (Research In Motion must be shaking in its boots.) The Watertown, Mass., company helps enterprises build custom mobile applications, make existing apps accessible to Windows Mobile devices and also offers a slate of managed services for those who don't want to run their mobile infrastructure in house.

Rosenthal is, of course, best known for founding reseller giant Corporate Software in the '80s and growing it to $2 billion in sales. Microsoft has invested $20 million in this latest venture of Rosenthal's, launched in October, 2007. In exchange, Enterprise Mobile works exclusively with Microsoft technologies and customer pilot programs for Microsoft's new mobile server System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted over Windows Live Messenger and what follows is an edited transcript.]

Microsoft Subnet: Welcome to the 10 questions for series. So here we go with question No. 1, Tell me a bit about Mobile Device Manager (MDM) server. How does it differ from competitors such as the Blackberry BlackBerry Internet Service?

Mort Rosenthal: MDM is integrated with Active Directory and is truly a part of the IT infrastructure as opposed to BES which is middleware. Also MDM has a fuller choice of policies that can enable or disable features and is designed for line-of-business (LOB) applications. LOB apps are where a company gets the real return from a mobility investment.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 2, Pundits like Mary-Jo Foley say that Google's new browser Chrome is really an assault on IE mobile and note that the IE mobile browser is generations behind IE (the mobile version is still waiting on the release of IE 6.0 while IE 8.0 is in beta). What gives on Microsoft's lag time for its mobile browsers?

Mort Rosenthal: Enterprises deploying a LOB or other strategic applications are interested in using the device in a predefined way. We have never seen an application that is constrained by the browser. Nor does an enterprise really want a production mobile worker to be surfing the web. In fact in many instances the browser is actually removed, and certainly access to consumer and media sites is restricted. As to why the browser functionality is "behind", the form factor and computing power are of course different, so equivalent functionality is neither possible nor desirable.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 4, this blog published a post about Globe Manufacturing's love affair with WM 6.1, mostly because it found the Samsung SCH-i760 to be a good smart phone. What kinds of features should an enterprise be looking for in a smart phone and which phones do you find to be the most popular with your customers? (Please disclose if you have an incentive for selling one type of phone over another.)

Mort Rosenthal: No incentive. We see demand in two buckets. Many applications require a touch screen, so the HTC Tilt and "equivalents" are popular as is the i760. Palm devices still hold a pretty good position as a touch screen candy bar. As for non-touch screen devices, the MOTO and Samsung devices are both popular. Of course the ruggedized (Symbol and Intermec...) and other durable versions remain extremely popular for field workers.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 5, What are your thoughts on Google Android and on open source mobile phone platforms generally?

Mort Rosenthal: Android: I think we like all are looking forward to the first device. The theory of open platform is appealing on the surface as enterprises want to essentially build "their own" device that is tailored to their requirements and adheres to standards just like a laptop is custom imaged in most companies. It is not however clear that Android out-of-the-box will facilitate this solution. Plus we are able to reflash and customized WM devices to an enterprises specs.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 6, What lessons can the iPhone teach the Microsoft ecosystem about mobile phones and mobile applications?

Mort Rosenthal: The iPhone is a very different metaphor of computing -- button based vs. menu or command based. There are advantages of each. I think WM will evolve to the best of both worlds. Certainly the iPhone is fun, but the enterprise story remains pretty limited as security and LOB capability are required and the iPhone is pretty much a consumer play or enterprise employee play at best, but not an IT-driven solution. But the button, multitouch, and drag interface is useful and could be beneficial in a open and programmable environment like WM. IF incorporated into certain LOB applications, it could be excellent.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 7, Not sure what you can say about this, but am interested in whatever your thoughts on about future Microsoft mobile services, so am going to ask about specifics … can you help sort any of this out? What is SkyMarket, SkyLine, SkyBox, Rouge? (if you can't answer specifics, what can you say about what's next?)

Mort Rosenthal: I can't comment because mostly I don't know. Clearly mobile "sockets" are important to Microsoft, and I am sure that they will expand their offerings to multiple segments.

Microsoft Subnet: No.8, People have noted that popular VoIP options like Skype aren't available on Windows Mobile phones. In your neck of the woods, what are the plans for VoIP and for fixed-mobile convergence (meaning a phone that can jump from a public network to WiFi, preferably without dropping the call)?

Mort Rosenthal: I think you are wrong. There are VOIP clients including Skype, and of course OCS. In an enterprise it is complex. Obviously, network traffic in a corporate campus is significantly effected by a lot of voice which eats up bandwidth. So network traffic for voice degrades other functions on the network. More companies are now beginning to pilot dedicated VoIP implementations. But VoIP over cellular also doesn't sound so good and carrier are also not particular happy about voice traffic not going through their network. Continued on page 2 ...

Microsoft Subnet: Ok, we're at the finish line. As your reward for being a good sport, we're ending with a couple of questions that will probably tempt you into answers that include subtle plugs for your company. (Readers, you have been warned.) No. 9. What is one thing that you always hope people will ask you about Windows 6.1 and enterprise mobility but they rarely do (and how would you answer)?

Mort Rosenthal: Q: What do you see as the receptivity of enterprises to the Microsoft Mobility story? A: We have seen that IT acceptance and support for the MS story is very strong. Even ahead of penetration. Microsoft is already a corporate IT's most strategic partner, so it is natural that MS solutions fit well from a architecture and support perspective. Mobility is not isolated. It needs to be fully integrated into the information architecture. Other architectures, even RIM, are "spot" solutions. 

Microsoft Subnet: No. 10, When looking at the enterprise mobile app market generally, what are the barriers that are keeping the typical enterprise from adopting and what are the software/service providers/phone makers doing to overcome them?

Mort Rosenthal: We feel a significant barrier is the deployment and ongoing operational issues. Mobile applications have far greater complexity of management than laptop or network applications. The complexity of the ecosystem alone make the integration of many players required for success. You decide to deploy a 5000 device application to field workers...what next? Who is going to do the heavy lifting and support required to make the deployment successful with MINIMAL disruption to the business? This is why a key part of our services are lifecycle services that outsource ongoing management of the mobility solution.

Microsoft Subnet: Thanks, Mort, for being a guest in our ""10 questions for" series.

Visit the Microsoft Subnet home page for more news, blogs, podcasts.

More blog post from the Microsoft Subnet posts:

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