Rollout: RIM's BlackBerry Connect

RIM succeeds in offering a "BlackBerry Lite" experience--extending mobile e-mail software to Palm OS devices.

October 5, 2006

6 Min Read
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Take one of the most popular smartphones on the market, Palm's Treo 650. Give it access to one of the leading solutions for mobile groupware, Research in Motion's BlackBerry Enterprise Server. It should make for the perfect marriage, but for BlackBerry Connect for the Treo 650, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

RIM's BlackBerry Connect client permits devices that do not run the BlackBerry operating system to connect to BlackBerry Enterprise Server. BES, in turn, allows for push e-mail connectivity to Microsoft's Exchange and IBM's Lotus Domino groupware servers. (GroupWise, which BES supports, is nevertheless unavailable on the BlackBerry Connect client). The end-user experience, which looks and feels like the native BlackBerry environment, also resembles that of competing products from Good Technologies, Nokia and Sybase. But BlackBerry Connect comes up short when compared with native BlackBerry handheld devices that connect to BES. Furthermore, other solutions do a better job with configuration and enforcement of IT policies.Although other carriers, mostly those in Asia and Australia, have had the BlackBerry Connect client for the Palm Treo 650 for several months, Cingular's recent launch marks the solution's first entry into the U.S. market. In addition to the Palm OS, the BlackBerry Connect client is available for a variety of smartphone platforms, including Windows Mobile 5 and Symbian. Availability depends on your carrier and where you are in the world.

Blackberry Connect

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How We Tested

We tested BlackBerry Connect in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs® using a Treo 650 from Palm and service provided by Cingular Wireless. We installed Microsoft Exchange 2003 and BES 4.1 on separate Dell PowerEdge SC1425 servers running Windows Server 2003. We also used a Toshiba Satellite 1200 as an Outlook client device. For comparison, we also looked at a BlackBerry 8700c smartphone.

Unlike its BlackBerry OS-driven brethren, deployment options for BlackBerry Connect are somewhat limited. Many admins prefer over-the-air activation, for example, which uses a wireless network to activate client devices for use on a BES server. BlackBerry Connect has no such activation option. Nor can administrators configure BlackBerry Connect devices using RIM's BlackBerry Manager software. Users must download the software from Palm's Web site onto their own desktops.Consumers may eventually see Treo models with BlackBerry Connect preloaded, but neither Research in Motion nor Palm has promised such an option. Meanwhile, the software is free for customers who purchased their Treo 650 after August 30, 2005, and costs $10 for anyone with an older model.

Installation is straightforward, if a bit more cumbersome than over-the-air activation or BlackBerry Manager. An administrator must first create a BES account for the user. Then the BlackBerry Connect software can be installed on a client PC with Outlook and a MAPI profile that matches the one defined on the BES server. Palm's data-synch tool, HotSync, then installs the BlackBerry Connect client and the latest version of VersaMail. The entire process took us only a few minutes, though we had to run it twice because the MAPI profile was not defined properly on our client PC the first time.

Great UI, Mediocre Manager

Given the tight integration between the BlackBerry handhelds and the BES platform, we doubted BlackBerry Connect would perform well. The end-user experience, however, exceeded our expectations. E-mails and calendar events were pushed to our Treo 650 in short order. Security is ensured with end-to-end Triple DES encryption. E-mails are pushed into Palm's native VersaMail client, where BlackBerry Connect acts as another account. Likewise, calendar events are automatically synchronized between the Outlook calendar and the Treo 650's native calendar application.

Full PIM sync is not available with BlackBerry Connect for the Treo 650. While BlackBerry OS-powered models, such as the BlackBerry 8700c we tested, will synchronize e-mail, contacts, tasks, notes and calendars, the BlackBerry Connect client will handle only e-mail and calendar entries. Address lookup is partially available through BlackBerry's Remote Lookup feature, which will query the back-end global address book and return any entries it finds (basically anyone in Active Directory). Although this is somewhat useful, it's not nearly as convenient as keeping all your Outlook contacts in sync with your wireless device.From an administration standpoint, BlackBerry Connect is hit or miss. It can do basic tasks, such as resetting device passwords, locking devices and performing remote wipes--important abilities, considering the likelihood that one of your users will lose a device sometime. BlackBerry Manager, the product's management interface, made most of these tasks easy, but we encountered one problem with remote wipe. Although that feature successfully restored the device to its factory settings, we were forced to uninstall and reinstall the BlackBerry Connect software both on our client PC and the Treo 650. This restore process should be a last resort in case a device is lost or stolen.

Policies? What Policies?

While BlackBerry Connect covers the basic IT administration roles, there are no IT policy features. BES can enforce a wide variety of IT policies, including many that businesses would find useful (for example, a password requirement or a cameras-prohibited policy). But none of these policies extends to devices running the BlackBerry Connect software.

BlackBerry Connect is useful for those who have Palm Treo 650 smartphones and want access to an existing BES architecture. It's also not a bad solution for small businesses, especially those that already own Treo 650s. RIM announced in March that it will offer BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express for free on the Internet with a single CAL (client access license) and an option to purchase up to 15 CALs; this gives RIM a slight price advantage over competitors. That said, if you're looking to deploy mobile e-mail from the ground up, consider running BES with BlackBerry handsets or handsets from other manufacturers combined with competing mobile groupware solutions. n

Sean Ginevan is a technology analyst with the Center for Emerging Network Technologies at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected]. 0

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