Microsoft takes aim as RIM battles in court


With RIM’s BlackBerry handhelds in danger of a shutdown for patent violations, Microsoft is ready to exploit the opportunity with its own push email offering. The timing of the court struggle could help Microsoft, which has been manoeuvring its own Direct Push technology for email for the Pocket PC and smartphone market. Microsoft says the technology should be available by the middle of the year, making a head-first slide into a heated market.

IT managers using BlackBerry software are caught in limbo, worried they might suddenly not have a wireless email service, said Gartner analyst Monica Basso. Many enterprises plan to deploy more BlackBerry handhelds, and the litigation has thrown in doubt whether they should proceed or look at other options, she said.

“[IT managers] are supposed to keep providing high quality of service for their executives,” Basso said. “They can’t afford to have it shut down overnight.”

Microsoft is listening eagerly to those concerns. RIM’s legal problems are “causing a lot of customers to come to us and ask about it”, said Scott Horn, general manager for the mobile and embedded devices group at Microsoft, in an interview this week in London.

“It’s caused a lot of companies to say, ‘Wow, mobile email is really important, messaging is very important, and it’s an enterprise mission-critical thing for my company,'” Horn said.

A free upgrade for its Windows Mobile 5.0 software, called the Messaging and Security Feature Pack, is undergoing testing now by device manufacturers and mobile phone operators, Horn said. That upgrade – along with an existing upgrade for Exchange Server 2003 released in October – enables push email with Microsoft’s software.

Devices equipped with the upgrade will ship in the first half of this year, Horn said.

Businesses are increasingly asking about deployment strategies and security issues with mobile devices, Horn said. Microsoft sees potential for large growth; the mobile email market stands at around 10 million users worldwide today, Horn said.

Microsoft has 130 million Exchange customers worldwide, Horn said, and it hopes to tap into that large base, as well as users of its other products, to promote its push email software. Most users carry mobile phones, he said, “and our strategy is to go to that customer base”.

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