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RIM's enterprise dominance comes to an end

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Mobile Workshop After dominating the enterprise mobile email space with the BlackBerry solution for so many years, RIM is no longer the only serious game in town. Despite a number of false starts, arch-rival Microsoft now appears to have closed the gap, at least in terms of forward looking commitment.

In a recent Reg Reader poll, the number of enterprise respondents citing native MS Exchange with ActiveSync as their strategic mobile email platform was almost identical to the number committed to RIM Blackberry.


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A couple of things are likely to be underpinning this shift. Firstly, the Microsoft solution has grown up somewhat, and with the recent incorporation of push email, historically RIM's big differentiator, the user experience now delivered natively by Exchange is arguably on a par with the BlackBerry.

Secondly, there is the cost factor. As many Reg Readers have pointed out, the MS push email solution is essentially available to Exchange 2003 users for zero charge, whereas the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) needs to be paid for and managed separately – a particularly important consideration as organisations look to scale up their use of mobile email beyond the initial VIP user base.

Countering these arguments, the BlackBerry solution is not dependent on the latest Exchange release, or even Exchange at all for that matter, as the BES will work quite happily in a Lotus Domino environment. And we also have to remember the loyal base of BlackBerry touting senior executives, who are unlikely to give up their latest status symbol without a fight.

Nevertheless, the finding from the poll represents a significant milestone, as single vendor markets are never that healthy. But let's not get too complacent here as the enterprise game has only shifted from a one horse to a two horse race, with relatively little in the way of commitment to platforms other than Microsoft and RIM.

Furthermore, when we look at the mid-market and SMB/SOHO situation, we see a pattern of Microsoft dominance emerging – not anywhere near the level we see with PCs, but clearly heading in that direction.


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So are the worst fears of those concerned about another Microsoft monopoly coming true? Well, we need to be clear that we are talking about platforms here, rather than devices, and with Exchange being so dominant already as an email server, what we are seeing is a confirmation that mobile email should, in an ideal world, be just an extension of regular email – i.e. there should be no need to mess around with add-ons, relay gateways, and the like.

Where this all leaves RIM is an interesting question. In the same poll, it was clear that enterprises in particular are beginning to look beyond mobile email to mobilising other corporate applications – something that broadens the discussion out beyond email servers. MS clearly has a strong story to tell here, but only if we look across other parts of its portfolio, so the Exchange incumbency influence is weaker in this context, and RIM is positioning hard as a generic mobile application platform.

Meanwhile, there is the whole question of which devices you plug into your chosen platform, which is the topic of another debate that is going on here. ®

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