Microsoft is readying an update to its cloud-based Windows Intune management service, adding the ability to centrally deploy applications across client PCs to bring it closer in line with on-premise tools.
Announced today at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles, the next iteration of Intune is currently in beta, but will be rolled out to all customers towards the end of this year.
Customers can sign up to try out the beta at Microsoft's Springboard site on TechNet, which currently restricts testers to no more than 10 PCs.
Intune is a cloud service, meaning that all customers will get the new features once they go live, with no need to update or install any extra software, the company said.
James Lockyer, Windows Intune product manager for Microsoft UK, said that the update builds on the service's existing features, adding improvements based on feedback from customers and partners.
Key among these is the ability to deploy applications to managed PCs within an organisation, a feature lacking in the service since it launched in March.
"This next iteration allows you to deploy Microsoft and third-party software, such as Office 2010 or Adobe Reader, and manage updates to these as well," said Lockyer.
This feature requires an administrator to package an application and upload it to the cloud so that it can be distributed to users wherever they are.
Microsoft is allocating 2GB of space per customer within its Azure cloud service for this, according to Lockyer, plus tools to streamline the whole process.
Other enhancements include support features, such as remote control, and the ability to restart a target machine remotely and initiate a malware scan from the admin console.
The web-based console has also been given a user interface makeover, with enhanced reporting capabilities and the ability to simply drag and drop a managed computer from one group to another.
Nazz Ahammad, director of Microsoft partner firm Nimbulus, said that the ability to distribute software using Intune will be a huge improvement.
Nimbulus already uses Intune to remotely manage PCs for about 14 customers in the UK, the largest of which has approximately 50 employees.
"With Intune, we can control updates easily. Previously, we used Windows Server Update Services, but this only works if the client is connected to their network," said Ahammad.
One feature still missing from Intune is the ability to centrally deploy a new version of Windows itself, such as Windows 7 Enterprise edition which all subscribers get the rights to install as part of the price.
However, Lockyer hinted that such capabilities might be offered in the future.
"We've already said we want ultimately to offer 'smart parity' with System Center Configuration Manager 2012, so if you look at what's in that, there are clues for what's coming down the line, he said.
Pricing for Windows Intune will remain at £7.25 per PC per month, Microsoft said.
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