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Windows Intune gives desktop management a cloud-based facelift

Windows Intune helps offload administrator responsibility by placing desktop management in the cloud and, ultimately, into the hands of end users.

Microsoft's System Center platform is a full-featured tool for managing Windows desktops and servers. Yet, for the average small to midsized IT shop, it can cause frustration. Windows Intune, Microsoft's cloud-based desktop management utility, can help smooth out that learning curve.

Priced on a subscription basis and similar to Office 365, Windows Intune supports widely distributed IT assets. For the small and midsized business (SMB) IT pro tasked with managing the laptops and various endpoint devices of remote workers, Intune offers a singular cloud-based management approach.

Microsoft's June 2012 Windows Intune update includes features that align with its "people-centric" approach to desktop management. They also line up quite well with the corporate (and IT) culture found in many SMBs. Let's take a look at five user-centric features in Windows Intune.

Enables user-installed software. Early versions of Microsoft Windows Intune allowed admins to collect data from managed devices, but the tool had only a limited ability to enact changes. The Intune update creates substantial application and policy delivery functionality, adding user-initiated software installation to the feature set. This feature gives users the ability to install line-of-business applications, which automates app deployment and reduces IT overhead.

Ability to add and remove managed devices. Users can determine which of their devices admins should manage. They can add PCs that require Intune management and remove devices as needed. These activities can be accomplished without the assistance of a privileged IT administrator.

More about Microsoft Windows Intune

Windows Intune helps strapped IT departments with desktop management

Windows Intune goes mobile with iOS, Android management

Why Windows Intune could be what your SMB customers need

IT pros get System Center-like features with revised Windows Intune

Third-party Windows desktop management tools to consider

Support for dynamic membership queries. One of the most powerful features of Microsoft System Center's Configuration Manager has always been its support for dynamic queries. Rather than grouping assets by their name, a dynamic query collects assets based on characteristics. This ability ensures that apps and configurations are delivered to the right endpoints -- even as assets are rearranged, provisioned and de-provisioned.

Microsoft Windows Intune features similar dynamic membership queries that enable IT to create management groups based on the characteristics of a managed asset. Groups are then automatically updated as those characteristics change or additional assets meet the query criteria. Dynamic membership queries create flexibility for deploying applications and for configuring and updating managed devices.

Integrated identity federation. Microsoft's cloud-based Windows Intune integrates with Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) 2.0, allowing the federation of user credentials with existing on-premises Active Directory accounts. Adding federation to Windows Intune enables a company's central IT to manage distributed assets without having to manage AD accounts for those assets. SMBs can manage devices in a range of domains as a single entity.

Centralized user interfaces for PCs and mobile devices. Facilitating all of Windows Intune's user-centric features is a centralized portal for traditional PCs and another interface for mobile devices. This portal becomes the starting point for users to invoke self-service actions such as installing applications and downloading policies. With two separate portals, users get the browser experience they're accustomed to on the appliance they are using (PC or mobile device). Having a single, central portal address, on the other hand, ensures each device -- no matter its location or type -- will always have access.

According to Microsoft, subscriptions for Windows Intune cost $11 per managed PC per month, although pricing varies by region. Volume discounts are reportedly available for purchases of 250 or more licenses.

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