Exchange 2003 SP2 mobility features against BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Older post: What’s under the hood of Exchange 2003 SP2. How are the new features a real challenge to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server? Could it potentially convince users of Exchange 5.5/2000/2003 + BES to switch over to Windows Mobile devices instead? I would love to know.

An update: In order to work with Windows Mobile clients, Exchange 2003 with SP2 maintains a HTTPs connection with each client. It is over this secure connection that new email is ‘push’ed to the handheld as it arrives. From “Exchange Server 2003 support for mobile devices“.

New with Exchange Server 2003 SP2 is Direct Push Technology, enabling a seamless push e-mail experience for compatible devices. Exchange ActiveSync uses an encrypted HTTPS connection established and maintained between the device and the server to push new e-mail messages, schedules, contact information, and tasks to the device. Synchronization is much faster with enhanced data compression translating to a faster experience when sending and receiving messages. The Exchange ActiveSync protocol also provides for control over mobile devices, including new abilities in SP2 to provision and enforce device security policies.

Exchange 2003 SP2 will now also have many of the remote management and security enforcement features that the BlackBerry Enterprise Server offerss. For example, administrators can now enforce the degree of security for Windows mobile passwords for every device connected to the Exchange server. See “Better Together: Windows Mobile 5.0 and Exchange Server 2003“. If I read correctly, a Https connection (over the existing wireless data connection) will still be initiated by the client and will be ‘kept alive’ – which leads to obvious questions on efficiency and scalability. This set of add-ons is enough to make an Exchage 2003 administrator to decide for the free SP2 addon instead of BES.
If it were to come down to which platform is a better option, Windows Mobile just steals the edge. Windows Mobile OS is supported by Microsoft, there are several applications available for the platform, the platform is available on a variety of devices. In contrast, BlackBerry technology is available primarily on the BlackBerry handset which comes in two standard flavours. Both flavours have greater appeal amongst prosumers (when compared to Windows mobile), but fail to match the wider feature set available with Windows mobile devices. For reasons unknown, RIM has yet to introduce expansion slots, voice recognition technology and other premium features for the BlackBerry. GPS navigation is only available with Sprint/Nextel’s 7520 (see “GPS navigation with your BlackBerry“). Partner devices including the Nokia 9300 with BlackBerry technology on-board were only recently made available in the U.S (see “BlackBerry on the Nokia 9300“). The hope is that these devices will fill in the void for prosumers who demand such features. At this time, the 9300 is the only partner device announced by RIM for the U.S handheld market.

Now for some speculation. It is not hard to see that Microsoft’s Windows Mobile leadership would look to level the handheld market such that the BlackBerry device is no longer perceived as a niche (read mobile email) device. Such a market would be driven simply by the number of productivity applications offered by every type of handheld (for example a PDA, or phone first). If the device were to lose it’s existing aura, BES cannot compete against the free handouts that Microsoft will distribute with Exchange 2003. These enhancements are also a great temptation for established corporate networks running with Exchange 5.5.

My hope is, RIM will continue to innovate and maintain leadership in terms of technology and alliances with other technology partners. It will continue to offer a wider range of applications that leverage advancements in wireless data connections (and not just mobile email).