Microsoft is upping the ante when it comes down to desktop optimization for Windows clients. The public Beta program for Windows Intune is now live, the first step in the company’s vision to introduce new offerings designed to take desktop management into the Cloud. Designed to streamline the administration of Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP seats, Windows Intune is designed to ‘tune up’ Windows clients, boosting efficiency, security, while helping business customers cut down the TCO (total cost of ownership). In this regard, Windows Intune has been created for small and midsize businesses, with environments featuring anywhere from 25 to 500 PCs.

“Windows Intune simplifies how businesses manage and secure PCs using Windows cloud services and Windows 7—making it easier for IT staff to manage and secure PCs from virtually anywhere. In addition to the core cloud service in this offering, we’re also providing access to Windows 7 Enterprise upgrades as well as advanced on-premise management and virtualization tools (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack),” Brandon LeBlanc, Windows communications manager on the Windows Client Communications Team, revealed.

Setting up and maintaining an on-premise desktop management infrastructure can be a strain in terms of resources and costs for smaller businesses. Windows Intune is, in this regard, Microsoft’s answer to feedback from companies that want access to enterprise-class solutions, but on a budget. Although no specific pricing details have been announced thus far, Windows Intune will expand Microsoft’s current Online Services offering, delivering a new Cloud-based desktop optimization offering available through a subscription model.

The simple fact that Windows Intune is hosted as opposite to on-premise means that customers can cut all expenditures related to running their own hardware infrastructure. Companies that want a taste of the new offering can already access the Beta of Windows Intune. Microsoft went live with the public beta as of April 19, 2010, indicating that 1,000 customers and IT partners in the US, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico would be able to test-drive the Beta Build.

Windows Intune is designed to support Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate and Professional; Windows Vista Enterprise, Ultimate, and Business; Windows XP Professional Service Pack (SP) 2 or SP 3 (recommended), according to Microsoft.

“Besides the Windows cloud service component, Windows Intune also includes Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights to standardize your PC’s on a single version of Windows to create a more manageable PC environment,” LeBlanc added. “[…] You also get the advanced tools included in the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) for more critical troubleshooting and complex PC management tasks (i.e. drive recovery and virtualization). For example, Using the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset, one of the MDOP tools available to download for Windows Intune customers, administrators can recover PCs and data that have become unusable.”

LeBlanc also offered a “quick overview of what customers and IT consultants can do with the cloud service component of Windows Intune:

“•Manage PCs through web-based console: Windows Intune provides a web-based console for IT to administrate their PCs. Administrators can manage PCs from anywhere.

•Manage updates: Administrators can centrally manage the deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs to all PCs.

•Protection from malware: Windows Intune helps protect PCs from the latest threats with malware protection built on the Microsoft Malware Protection Engine that you can manage through the Web-based console.

•Proactively monitor PCs: Receive alerts on updates and threats so that you can proactively identify and resolve problems with your PCs—before it impacts end users and your business.

•Provide remote assistance: Resolve PC issues, regardless of where you or your users are located, with remote assistance.

•Track hardware and software inventory: Track hardware and software assets used in your business to efficiently manage your assets, licenses, and compliance.

•Set security policies: Centrally manage update, firewall, and malware protection policies, even on remote machines outside the corporate network.”

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