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I've been asked to evaluate smartphones and smartphone management software, including the blackberry (which is likely the winner of the evaluation even before the evaluation gets started).

The environment will be: all data will be on an exchange 2007 server. Users will expect to manage their email, calendar, contacts, meetings, tasks, and notes between their phone and the exchange server.

Sounds good except the blackberry requires some middleware tool such as a BES server of NotifySync.

This leads me to the following question:

  1. Is it possible to "test" a BES server in an exchange environment, or does it require so much work to get the "test" working that you give up and put the sucker into production because it's required 30 hours of integration and adjustment on the exchange server to get it working?
  2. Is there a reason to look at version 4.5 of the BES server or should I skip straight to the 5.0 server?
  3. Are there alternatives that are real alternatives? We've got a requirement that the platform must support verizon, so that rules out S60 devices. Windows mobile seems like it might be a good alternative, on paper, but in practice it seems like the kind of decision that'd get me fired because windows mobile, at least when I used it last, was unpleasant.
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migrated from superuser.com Nov 20 '09 at 18:01

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5 Answers 5

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With the new 5.0 version of it and BlackBerry's with 5.0 software it really becomes a very tight tie to the user's mailbox.
Here is a list of all the features of the 5.0 server http://na.blackberry.com/eng/services/server/5/compare.jsp

If your company is one that likes to lock stuff down, you'll be able to do a much better job of that with the BB's. If you run the trial, you can switch the key over to production when you purchase so you don't need to set it up again, the trial also comes with a support ticket which you can use to help with the installation it does seem a little complex but I used it when I setup ours. It's not too complex really, but it has to plug into Exchange so you need to open up permission to the mailboxes for it.

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ActiveSync has proven itself to be very reliable for my Customers. Microsoft is licensing ActiveSync to Apple and Google, so you'll find it in iPhone and Android devices, as well as on Windows Mobile device.

Blackberry Enterprise Server (at least 4.5-- I haven't used 5.0) seems to be overly complex in its "plumbing", and that worries me. ActiveSync is a fairly straightforward ISAPI application, and isn't tremendously complicated.

Personally, I think that Research in Motion's business model re: Blackberry devices communication to RIM servers which, in turn, receive messages from BES inside corporate networks seems silly and greedy to me. When Blackberry devices were little more than glorified pagers and ubiquitous cellular-based Internet connectivity didn't exist that probably made sense. Today, it seems to be nothing more than a way for RIM to siphon money off of both the device users and the IT departments supporting them.

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I agree - the bb model seems a bit archaic these days, but it does offer (the illusion of) better control over the phones than anything else out there. The fact that they touch all the packets doesn't seem to concern the management, so I won't let it bother me. –  chris Nov 26 '09 at 22:59

The company I do IT for uses both WinMo and BB phones. Personally I like MS's implementation of exchange sync better than anything BB can do - not to mention it's $30/mo per phone cheaper.

The only reason we are still using BB's is the need for Sprint's Direct Connect (not a problem for you), BB messaging, and the way BBs work internationally. If all you need is domestic exchange integration, by all means use windows mobile. HTC's Touch Pro and Touch Pro 2 erase a lot of the down sides of Windows Mobile with their Touchflo 3D.

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Does the BES server synch all PIM, including notes, tasks, and meetings? Also, does it support the full exchange functionality such as using the corporate directory to add people to a meeting request or the ability to view all resources in a meeting (attendees, location, etc)? For instance, the iPhone app doesn't support a full-fledged meeting requests and doesn't sync notes or todo lists. Various S60 clients also have similar holes in their ActiveSync support, so I don't take it as a given that the BES is a full-fledged exchange client. –  chris Nov 20 '09 at 18:22
    
BES does indeed give you the ability to sync notes, calendar and tasks. I use this to transfer field observations into outlook. –  David Mackintosh Nov 20 '09 at 18:47
    
So you would say that it has every bit the same functionality as outlook 2007 (when talking to an exchange 2007 server)? –  chris Nov 20 '09 at 19:33
    
In that you can read and send email, browse/add/change contacts, browse/add/change calendar entries, browse/add/change notes... yes. You can't get at "public" folders, and I believe the device by default does not cache emails on it locally (ie no folder sync) and therefore search is troublesome... but it is a good basic mobile interface into your exchange mailbox. –  David Mackintosh Nov 21 '09 at 1:37

We have mostly Blackberries with BES 4.5 and a few WinMobile devices that use ActiveSync.

Historically, most people have Blackberries because they worked really well for email - pretty much anyone could use a BBerry after just a few minutes of training. Back when they used Mobitex, a BES server talking to RIM's systems which in turn talked to the handhelds was the only way to make it work.

I think BBerries continue to be popular in corporate settings because they are still email first and are fairly easy to use, because WinMobile sucks (see below), and because BES has been and I'd say still is ahead in terms of management features - ease of setting up a handheld for a user, ease of getting it talking to your Exchange server, ease of wiping it if necessary, control over what's sync'd between the server and the handheld, and so on.

You can get a copy of BES for free and I don't see any gotchas in setting it up on a server (not your Exchange server) and testing it w/ a few devices.

*WinMobile sucks: My first exposure was to Win Mobile 5, using two Treos, one with PalmOS, one with WM5 and the Palm is excellent, intuitive, and just works, while the WM5 is annoying and frustrating. It's hard to use as a phone, adding contacts is a hassle, etc. I've only spent a bit of time using WM6 or 6.5, but they didn't get much better. My favorite explanation was from a guy who said "WM6.5 is unusable unless you download and install a whole ton of 3rd party s/w to hide the interface."

IMO, Blackberries are still a better choice for business users who need phone, email, and a bit of web access.

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IMO, BlackBerry devices suck. The iPhone is owning the consumer smartphone market, and people are expecting actual, real-life browsers. The new Windows Mobile and Android devices are looking pretty compelling at this point.

I'm responsible for a 90k user Exchange environment. At that scale with Exchange 2007, RPC load caused by BlackBerry users is affecting our ability to provision high-density mailbox servers. Typically, a BlackBerry user generates 5x more RPCs than a user with an ActiveSync device.

What BlackBerry IS good for are applications with high security requirements. Even without content protection enabled, the BB is a difficult device to compromise. If you have users who use the BlackBerry as an aid for business continuity or to store proprietary data or PPSI, BlackBerry content protection will provide you with the highest level of data security. (At a terrible cost in performance)

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