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The Cost of Mobile Email

A new study from analyst firm J. Gold Associates finds that Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)’s enterprise mobile email upgrade may not be that attractive to around half of its installed base of Exchange users because of the wholesale software updates involved.

Microsoft’s long-awaited push email updates are supposed to help it overtake market leader BlackBerry and surpass rivals like Good Technology Inc. in the highly competitive mobile email segment by cutting the costs of installing such software systems at the enterprise. Microsoft, and some analysts, have suggested that its mobile email updates will be cheaper for business users since they only require upgrades to existing Exchange software and Windows Mobile operating systems.

The J.Gold Associates report, however, suggests that many existing Exchange users will not be able to take advantage of the updates because they are not running the latest version of Exchange. The mobile email updates contained in the Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 with Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0 only work with the latest version of the enterprise email package.

Analyst Jack Gold estimates that only around 50 percent of Exchange users have upgraded to Exchange 2003. Therefore, he suggests that the push email updates will be most attractive to large enterprise customers who have already moved to the newer software and receive service pack updates free of charge because they are on a maintenance contract.

“SMBs who have to upgrade their Exchange system at substantial cost will have to utilize another approach, or move to a hosted model,” Gold writes.

Gold reckons that upgrading to Exchange 2003 would be a “major cost burden” for SMBs, costing between $500 and $1,000 per user. The major cost being involved in bringing up Active Directory. The report suggests that the eventual figure could be higher since it doesn’t take into account the downtime involved in upgrading the entire email system.

As Unstrung has already reported, the server side upgrades are also only part of the equation. The MSFP push email update also needs to be applied to mobile clients and won’t run on the older Microsoft operating systems, requiring the latest Windows Mobile 5.0 cut to work its magic. This means that not only will it not work with many of the Microsoft devices already in the field, but even the gadgets with the latest operating system on board may well require an over-the-air update to make mobile email work. (See Microsoft's Push Comes to Shove.)

As it stands, the Microsoft system will likely be most suitable for users with the latest and greatest code from Redmond in place and most attractive to companies “totally dedicated” to following a Microsoft path. Gold also suggests that many companies that deploy mobile applications in the field will do so on Windows Mobile devices, and if they already have Exchange it may make sense to move to mobile email as they incorporate wireless into the mix.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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