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Microsoft's Push Comes to Shove

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) may one day challenge BlackBerry for dominance of the mobile email market, but, despite the launch of the first "direct push" email devices, the Windows Mobile operating system isn't up to the task yet, according to analysts.

They point to several constraints. For starters, there aren't many push-capable Windows Mobile devices out on the market yet, the upgrade path from older devices isn't at all clear, and enterprises haven't yet had time to test the server and device software fully to ensure that it works well.

"The press seems to be giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt that their release 1.0 of wireless email software will be competitive with the Blackberry in terms of security, manageability, and battery life," says Gartner Inc. analyst Todd Kort. "But I have strong doubts about this." He predicts Microsoft's wireless email problems will be resolved with the next software revision, expected sometime next year, as well as more and better hardware that exploit it more fully.

Kort cites three key weaknesses in the software as it stands:

  • Mobile Outlook is still too hard to navigate on a mobile device.
  • Windows devices still use too much battery power compared to the Blackberry.
  • The security and manageability features in the 1.0 release are inferior to those on the Blackberry.
"Smart companies using Windows Mobile devices will choose GoodLink rather than the Microsoft push email offering, at least until the next Microsoft rev," comments Kort.

Of course, if users have already installed the RIM email servers it will be difficult for Microsoft to persuade them to swap them out. They tend to be a fiercely loyal bunch. (See RIM's Unified Theory.)

"We're a Blackberry shop... We've made our investment in their backend, so we'll be sticking with Blackberry, especially now that the attorneys have made their decision," says Stephen Taylor, IS manager at Denver-based law firm Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons.

Companies that do want to implement Microsoft push email for their mobile employees, however, will need to install Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which was first made available late in 2005. Then they will also need to upgrade Microsoft Mobile devices with the the Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP) for Windows Mobile 5.0.

Microsoft users, however, will have to get the device upgrade from the hardware manufacturer. And at least right now, it doesn't look as if many vendors are going to be offering upgrades for anything other than devices with the 5.0 version of the mobile OS.

For instance, Palm Inc. will offer a downloadable upgrade for its new Windows Mobile device, and HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) will be bringing out a new smartphone using the push software, but vendors aren't talking about upgrades for older devices.

"You're better off asking the manufacturers," a Microsoft spokesperson told Unstrung recently, when we asked about upgrade cycles.

"The OS update process for mobile devices is very device- and manufacturer-specific," comments David Via of Ferris Research. "I am seeing fewer and fewer device manufacturers even offer major OS updates, like from Windows Mobile 2003 to Windows Mobile 5."

Many users will just go ahead and buy new devices, as they're known to do every two to three years, Via added.

This lag between market hype and enterprise reality may not be all bad for Microsoft, however -- as Gartner's Kort points out -- there will come a time when users want to do more with their devices than just mobile email.

"About the time Microsoft improves its email offering and fixes mobile Outlook, enterprises will begin entertaining the idea of mobilizing additional applications beyond email, such as CRM, SFA, and field services. This is when Microsoft will become a threat to RIM," Kort opines.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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