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Push Comes to Pull at Microsoft

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has made news recently with its long-awaited push email update to Windows Mobile 5.0 and Exchange. There is, however, just one catch, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Todd Kort: Microsoft's email upgrade isn't really push at all.

"Microsoft calls it 'Direct Push' -- but when you look beneath the hood, it is actually a 'fast pull' technology," the analyst tells Unstrung in an email. What he means is that the device calls back to the Exchange server to retrieve messages, rather than mail being pushed to the device via a network operations center (NOC), which is how the email systems from Good Technology Inc. and BlackBerry operate.

"Direct Push is a marketing term that is not reflective of the actual technology," continues Kort. "For whatever reason, 'push' is perceived by the vast majority of users to be better than 'pull,' but this is mostly based on historical comparisons rather than today's conditions."

Kort says that the user experience is generally comparable to true push email systems -- but increased synchronization between the device and back-end could lead to a shorter battery life: "I would not make a big deal about this, except for the fact that Microsoft's pull technology is going to use up your battery faster."

"It's synchronized right back with the server," a spokesman for Microsoft says of the Windows Mobile update, without disputing the "fast pull" characterization. From the Redmond perspective, this means lower cost of ownership compared to systems that have to use a NOC to deliver mail to the device.

For the moment, however, it also means that users will be locked into using Exchange -- with the relevant service pack upgrade -- to deliver email to their shiny new Windows Mobile devices.

And, of course, there are plenty of organizations that exclusively use Exchange for corporate email, but as Matt Grover, senior network engineer at the University of Florida points out, by no means all do.

"There's a lot of people on Exchange here, but across the university as a whole there's no standard," he says. "To me it doesn't matter because I use Linux."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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