Rollout: Windows Mobile 6.0

For pure mobile e-mail, the integration of Windows Mobile 6.0 and Microsoft Exchange 2007 maintains Windows as a serious contender to RIM. However, 6.0 still doesn't deliver a knockout

June 20, 2007

6 Min Read
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Microsoft has yet to outdo Research In Motion when it comes to mobile e-mail capabilities. But Windows Mobile 6.0, Microsoft's latest offering, does all the right things to keep itself on RIM's heels. Atop the list is a deeper integration with Exchange 2007, which leverages Microsoft's dominance in enterprise e-mail.

But that's not all. Microsoft has strengthened developer support, enhanced Wi-Fi configuration, added encrypted storage, introduced new remote file access features and snuck in SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) support, just to name a few features. Toss in a refreshed user interface and you've got a system with real enterprise appeal and a formidable challenger to RIM and other mobile e-mail vendors.

However, though enterprises will appreciate the added features in Windows Mobile 6.0, there are a few gotchas we discovered during our tests. And while we were impressed with the progress Windows Mobile has made, its new features aren't worth ripping out existing Windows Mobile 5.0 deployments. Overall, RIM's OS still leads the way as a secure, mobile e-mail platform. Microsoft still has catch-up work to do, particularly with device management.Getting The Message

Microsoft sent us two devices to test: a T-Mobile Dash running Windows Mobile 6 Standard (formerly Smartphone Edition) and the new T-Mobile Wing running Windows Mobile 6 Professional (formerly Pocket PC Phone Edition).

Many of the new features in Windows Mobile 6.0 revolve around messaging and collaboration, and for good reason. If Microsoft is going to unseat RIM's BlackBerry, it's mobile OS must handle e-mail superbly. Windows Mobile 6 builds on the functionality first introduced with the release of SP2 for Exchange 2003. The first major improvement comes with

What's New

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provisioning. Getting our client handhelds provisioned to our Exchange 2007 e-mail server was painless. We were pleased to find that Microsoft also has made importing certificates to the device more akin to the desktop experience, doing away with the multistep headache presented in Windows Mobile 5.0, which is important if you're using self-signed certificates.

Once e-mail is set up several new features greet users. Possibly the most useful is the ability to search for e-mail messages on the Exchange server. Given that our test unit held only a limited amount of messages, being able to reach back in and search the server for other messages was powerful. Microsoft also added HTML e-mail support. Complex HTML messages, like those from news digests, rendered well.A Bigger SIP

One of the most talked about features in Windows Mobile 6.0 is the inclusion of Microsoft's own SIP stack. SIP expands communication options by letting callers use their Windows Mobile phone as a VoIP phone over Wi-Fi, where they can place and receive calls to a PBX or commercial SIP server. Unfortunately, the inclusion of SIP and, more specifically, the configuration of it, is at the discretion of the mobile operator. T-Mobile did not include SIP support in the units we were sent.

Microsoft also has made improvements to calendaring. With Windows Mobile 6.0, users can view attendees for meetings and their status (whether a colleague will or won't attend a meeting). Users of Windows Mobile 6 Professional can send new meeting requests directly from their handhelds. Building on the idea of collaboration, Microsoft also now lets users access files from Windows Server over SMB or SharePoint file shares behind the enterprise firewall by using Microsoft Exchange as a proxy.

This feature is similar to RIM's Mobile Data Services, though limited by comparison. Although Windows Mobile 6.0 allows for file share access, RIM's Mobile Data Services can tunnel a variety of data requests behind the corporate firewall. We'd like to see broader proxy access (for instance, to SQL requests to back end servers), but generic document access is a decent start.

Management of Windows Mobile handsets remains within Exchange, and administrators can perform basic security tasks, such as remotely wiping devices and enforcing strong device PINs. However, advanced features, such as disabling applications or performing device inventory, which are available in mobile device management systems from RIM, Nokia and Sybase, are not included.Beyond Messaging

One of the biggest differences between the Smartphone and Pocket PC editions of Windows Mobile 5.0 was the inclusion of mobile versions of Microsoft's popular Office suite on the Pocket PC platform. Many operators and device manufacturers put viewer software on Smartphone edition devices, but such software wouldn't let users edit files, nor did they always provide the same richness of formatting as viewing the file in native Office.

Microsoft has brought greater parity between the two platforms in Windows Mobile 6.0 by including versions of mobile Word, Excel and Office on both Windows Mobile 6 Standard and Professional versions. Only Professional users can actually create new documents, but both Standard and Professional users can view and edit documents they receive. We viewed several Word and Excel documents that arrived as e-mail attachments with ease, though the small screen on both the Dash and Wing made us reluctant to do serious document editing.

Microsoft has broadened developer support by including .Net Compact Framework 2.0 and SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition on the device ROM. Although we didn't try to develop any new applications during our tests, the addition of both packages means that developers won't have to redistribute them, and end users will gain performance advantages particularly from the improvements to .Net.

WLAN SecurityMicrosoft has made slight improvements in the areas of security as well. Wi-Fi users now can configure their devices with WPA2/802.11i natively without the need for a third-party supplicant. Such integration should be a boon for IT groups implementing enterprise-grade security in the WLAN.

Microsoft also includes the ability to encrypt data stored on removable storage cards, such as SD cards. We'd like to see encryption extended to the entire Windows Mobile file system to prevent data on the device itself from falling into the wrong hands if the device is lost.

On the device front, popular machines like the Samsung Blackjack and Palm Treo 750v, in addition to the T-Mobile Dash, are slated to receive upgrades. Microsoft declined to share pricing on Windows Mobile 6.0. n

Sean Ginevan is an NWC contributing editor and a technology analyst with the Center for Emerging Network Technologies at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].

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