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What is Windows Intune?

Beta 2 of cloud-based PC management tool released

As part of its Worldwide Partner Conference keynote, Microsoft announced that the second public beta for its cloud-based PC management and security platform, Windows Intune, is now available.

The first Windows Intune beta, announced in April, was limited to 1,000 users in the US, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico and filled up in 24 hours. With beta number two, Microsoft has expanded testing to 10,000 customers and partners in the US, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, UK and Italy.

Windows Intune, in a nutshell, is a web-based console where IT administrators can manage the deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs to all PCs, keep track of hardware and software inventory, fix PC issues remotely, manage protection from malware threats and set security policies. Windows Intune can be accessed anywhere an Internet connection is available.

Microsoft is aiming the cloud-based Windows Intune squarely at companies with 25 to 500 PCs, as businesses of this size typically don't have the resources to manage and configure servers in an on-premise desktop management environment.

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A demo of the Windows Intune Multi-Account Console.

In addition to expanding the beta to more users in more countries, Microsoft also unveiled new Windows Intune pricing and licensing information and a new feature called Multi-Account Console, designed to help Microsoft partners and customers manage multiple accounts through a single Web-based console.

Here's a rundown of what's new in the new Windows Intune beta.

Pricing and Licensing

The biggest piece of news about Windows Intune is the price: For $11 per PC per month users will get the Windows Intune service plus integrated anti-malware (anti-virus and anti-spyware) and Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights. Volume discounts will also be available for purchases of 250 licenses or greater.

Windows Intune will be sold like other cloud services from Microsoft -- through Microsoft partners and the Microsoft Online Services Web site.

If Windows Intune users are planning on a hybrid of cloud and on-premise PC management, they have the option, for an additional dollar per PC per month, to subscribe to Microsoft's MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack) suite, a collection of on-premise PC management tools that can accomplish tasks that the Windows Intune cloud service cannot, such as diagnosing and recovering unbootable PCs.

Customers with existing Microsoft SA (Software Assurance) coverage will receive a discount for Windows Intune that will equal approximately the price of their SA coverage.

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about Windows Intune.

New Feature: Multi-Account Console

The most popular suggestion from testers of the first Windows Intune beta, says Alex Heaton, Group Product Manager for Windows Intune, was that they be able to view and switch between multiple accounts on the same Web page.

Based on that feedback, Microsoft added a feature called Multi-Account Console, a single page where partners can manage different customers or an IT manager can manage different departments within a company.

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From the multi-account console screen, users will have a bird's-eye view of the all environments they manage. They can monitor the status and health of client PCs, including alerts and anti-malware updates. IT managers and partners can also change the filter on the multi-account console page to view by health status so customers that need urgent assistance will rise to the top of the list.

"This addition makes the experience simple for partners to scale and will hopefully save them time, and ultimately money," says Heaton.

Where to Sign Up and General Availability

Windows Intune will be generally available by early 2011 in all the countries included in this second public beta. Windows Intune will be more broadly available in select European and Latin American countries at launch, and in the months following the official launch, Microsoft plans to make Windows Intune available in select Asian countries.

Those who want to take a look at Windows Intune can check out videos on the Windows Intune site. To sign up for the beta, users can visit the Experience Windows Intune page.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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