BlackBerry Maker in Microsoft Crosshairs

The battle over the mobile e-mail market will be heating up over the coming months, and it’s a battle that BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is destined to lose.

Although RIM’s leadership position remains strong in the short-term, analysts say that, in the long run, it will be toppled by the Redmond, Wash. juggernaut Microsoft.

At the center of the fray is how e-mail is delivered to mobile users.

Push Versus Pull

RIM “pushes” e-mail. When it arrives at a mail server, it’s automatically sent to BlackBerry devices wherever they may be.

Microsoft “pulls” e-mail. Its devices must poll a server periodically to see if there’s any mail there and, if there is, to pull it down to the device.

To implement its push approach, RIM, along with others such as Good Technology and Intellisync, created software, or middleware, that runs on, ironically, servers operating under Microsoft’s Exchange groupware program.

“Microsoft failed in that middle component,” Ellen Daley, an analyst at Forrester Research in Boston told TechNewsWorld. “It never got its act together to push e-mail out automatically from the Exchange server to a device.”

Cutting Out Middleware

However, that’s expected to change in the coming months. “Microsoft said, ‘I’m sick of RIM eating my lunch,'” Daly explained. So what it’s going to do is release a version of Exchange that will push e-mail without the need for middleware — as long as the device the mail is being pushed to is running Microsoft’s mobile operating system.

Initially, RIM also subscribed to the “want-push-buy-my-device” model, but it has changed its approach by creating software that performs BlackBerry functions on non-BlackBerry machines. Release of that product in the United States, though, has been delayed due to licensing and certification snags.

So the stage seems set for an epic struggle over mobile e-mail, a struggle that some say will send RIM for a tumble.

Meaning of Winning

“There’s a battle shaping up there, but I’d say that Microsoft has the ultimate advantage over the long haul because it has more resources, more device support and a simpler solution,” Peter Pawlak, a senior analyst with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. told TechNewsWorld.

Forrester’s Daly added: “Microsoft is going to win. But it’s important to know what win is going to mean.

“For wireless e-mail, RIM is going to remain the best solution,” she maintained. “And if all you want is wireless e-mail, then RIM is going to win. But if you want something else beyond wireless e-mail, then Microsoft wins.

“RIM is going to survive, but it’s going to be the Macintosh — the best user experience for wireless e-mail,” she opined, “but it won’t get a lot of traction in companies for line of business applications — field service, sales force and such.”

Java Drawbacks

Although RIM is attempting to gouge a foothold in the business applications area, Daly contends Microsoft has the upper hand there. That’s because RIM’s applications are written in Java, which is more complex than Microsoft’s solutions, which use the company’s NET environment.

“It requires a higher skill set to develop applications in [a Java] environment, which means it costs more versus a Microsoft skill set,” she said.

Moreover, she added, “People just like Microsoft interfaces because they’re familiar with them. Yes, RIM has the capability in that space, but will they win there? Not really.”

Short Term Safety

While Microsoft may wear down RIM over the long, nothing is going to happen over night.

“The RIM solution is known to be very secure, which is a huge issue with IT managers,” Ken Hyers, a senior analyst with ABI Research in Oyster Bay, N.Y. told TechNewsWorld. “They’ve become an industry standard now, and I don’t think Microsoft’s e-mail solution is quite as good.”

That’s why Hyers doesn’t expect the market to change significantly in the next 12 to 18 months. “But a year from now, we could have a new solution from Microsoft and simply because of its scale and overall acceptance in the enterprise market, it may become a new norm,” he said.

Daly added, “We can’t discount how hard getting this right is and the reliability that RIM has been offering enterprises for a while.

“Sure, Microsoft may make their date and deploy in Q4, but it could be a good year before things really get going,” she said.

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