Mobile Device Management: Free Usually Means Trouble

First, let me state the obvious: Microsoft has been a laggard -- not a leader -- in the mobile device management (MDM) market. Faced with that reality, the company is shaking up its MDM strategy -- introducing a free approach for Office 365 customers while also continuing to build the Intune platform. Shocking? Perhaps not. But the bigger picture may point to revenue challenges in the overall MDM market, especially in small businesses.

When smartphones and tablets first came along, the BYOD (bring your own device) trend created anarchy for some IT departments. MDM platforms were supposed to restore order. In many large enterprises, that was certainly the case.

Thanks, But No Thanks

But within smaller businesses, I sense that MDM never really took off. (If I'm wrong, tell me why.) In many cases, customers simply weren't willing to pay an extra fee to ensure highly reliable smartphones and tablets were managed -- even if the data on those devices was highly valuable.

Among the potential proof points: MDM companies like MobileIron enjoy really strong double-digit growth, but if you check their financials much of the discussion involves Global 2000 company adoption rather than smaller customers. Another rival, Good Technology, delayed its IPO -- prompting some pundits to wonder if MDM will get swallowed by larger IT management platforms.

The challenges are particularly clear for Microsoft. The company's Intune platform apparently found some adopters within large companies. But Intune was originally Windows-only. Apple iOS and Android management came later. I'm not sure Linux and Mac OS management ever arrived.

Going forward, Office 365 will have some free, built-in MDM capabilities. But customers can still adopt the more comprehensive Intune platform -- which extends beyond smartphones and tablets to support Windows desktops. (Here's a comparison of free MDM for Office 365 vs. the Intune platform.)

The bigger question: Is the freemium offering a sign of Microsoft's struggles -- or an indication that MDM never fully lived up to its hype, particularly in small businesses?

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