Microsoft Unveils Cloud Device Management Service For Enterprises, Launches Office For iPad

As expected, Microsoft launched its long-awaited Office for iPad suite on Thursday, and Word, Excel and PowerPoint are now available for download from Apple's App Store.

But for Microsoft channel partners, the company's unveiling of a new cloud service bundle called Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) will have a much more profound impact.

EMS includes Windows Intune, Microsoft's cloud-based mobile device management service, as well as a new premium version of Azure Active Directory, and Azure Rights Management Services, which admins use to delegate access to Microsoft cloud apps.

EMS works with a wide range of devices, including iPads, Android devices, Microsoft Surface and Windows 8 tablets from third party vendors. At a press conference in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described EMS as "the most strategic piece of what we are doing in support of enterprises."

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Microsoft is charging $4 per user monthly to use EMS on up to 5 devices, in a promotion that runs until September. After that, EMS will cost $6.50 per user monthly, and it's only available to volume licensing customers.

In an onstage demo, Julia White, general manager of technical marketing in Microsoft's Office division, said Azure Active Directory Premium lets an organization's employees access SaaS apps with a single username and password, while also enabling admins to manage users and apps.

Azure Active Directory Premium has a security element too: It shows where people are logging in from so admins can keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. There's also multi-factor authentication, which requires users to enter a code sent via text message or voice call when logging in, as an added measure of protection, White said.

While Windows Intune hasn't set the world on fire since its debut in 2011, adding identity and access management, and security, to the mix could make it more attractive for enterprises.

Microsoft is creating a linkage between on-premise and the cloud in a variety of ways with EMS, Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, a Microsoft partner in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., told CRN. "Things like multi-factor authentication, Azure Active Directory and Windows Intune create a nice conduit to Microsoft's cloud," he said.

Of course, the big news was Microsoft's unveiling of Office For iPad, as standalone versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are now available for download from Apple's App Store. For years, Microsoft avoided releasing such a product for fear of enriching its rival's platform, turning its back on what some analysts think could quickly become a multibillion- dollar revenue stream.

With all this time to prepare, Microsoft is coming to the table with Office iPad apps that appear extremely well-thought-out.

The iPad version of Excel, which White showed off in her demo, includes a pop-up numerical keyboard and lets users interact with quantitative data without the use of a mouse. The PowerPoint includes a feature where the user touches the screen for a few seconds and a laser pointer pops up.

Office For iPad uses a "freemium" business model in which users can read and present Office content for free, while editing files and creating new ones requires an Office 365 subscription.

Microsoft is planning to bring a touch version of Office to the Windows Store and "other popular platforms," according to White. "This is really just the beginning," she said at the event.

Nadella also made it clear that Office for iPad is just the first step toward Microsoft making sure its apps work on all devices, including ones made by rivals. "You can expect us to make sure we drive the Office 365 experience everywhere -- on the web and on all phones and tablets," Nadella said at the event.