Users will determine Microsoft's mobile success in the enterprise

Microsoft is quite used to being written off these days. The software giant has been told that the PC operating system is dead, that Internet Explorer is on the way out, that it will be blown away by the cloud. In particular, we are told that Apple, Android and Symbian mean Microsoft just won’t be a player in the mobile market.

We are about to find out if that will be the case.

Microsoft says the release of Windows Phone 7 is its most important product launch this year. It is certainly going to be a test of the firm’s ability to thrive in a world that is not dominated by the PC.

Phone 7 is the first time Microsoft has acknowledged that a smartphone is not simply a smaller PC. As such, the supplier faces something of a conundrum in the corporate market.

Phone 7, unlike previous incarnations of Windows Mobile, is not as heavily integrated with the Windows management tools that were often presented as a differentiator for business users.

In accepting that consumer tastes dictate success in mobile phones, Microsoft has had to discard some of the corporate loyalty it has historically ¬nurtured.

In the business world, Blackberry still reigns supreme – ironically, thanks mainly to its integration with Microsoft’s Exchange Server for secure e-mail.

But just as the iPhone is increasingly coming into the office as users rebel against having their personal phone in one pocket and their work phone in another, Blackberry is desperately trying to prove its credentials as a consumer device.

The reality is that it won’t be long before we no longer make any such distinction. Like it or not, IT departments will have to find a way to allow staff to use whatever smartphone they choose and allow any device to live in the secure corporate environment.

The decision about whether that phone runs Microsoft will be made by the user, not the IT manager. And that represents a major shift in power for everyone involved.