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RIM PlayBook to sync with Microsoft Exchange cloud

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The PlayBook – the iPad challenger from BlackBerry maker RIM – is following Apple's device into the workplace with the assistance of Microsoft.

People getting Exchange emails will be able to synchronize with the version of Exchange Server behind Microsoft's forthcoming Office 365 cloud suite, RIM said on Thursday.

Sync with Exchange is planned as part of the RIM's BlackBerry Office 365 service, due as a beta around the time of Office 365, with availability in late 2011 RIM announced during a web cast.

Microsoft has not given a date for Office 365, the successor to Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), but it's expected in July in time for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles, California.

Alec Taylor, RIM vice president of software services and enterprise marketing, said: "I [will] now have ability to consume and use Office 356 information on my PlayBook."

Office 365 is a re-worked version of the collaboration services due from Microsoft that - with hosted Exchange - will include SharePoint collaboration, the hosted and trimmed down version of Office called Office Web Apps, and Lync Server.

Microsoft has been in a bitter war with Google over mind share, trying to convince us that more businesses are using BPOS than Google Apps. That battle is expected to heat up once the branding transition from BPOS to Office 365 is complete.

RIM, meanwhile, has long held the top slot among smart phones and among the business community. Its phones withstood advances made by Apple's iPhone but recently saw its reign as America's number-one smart phone ended by phones running Google's Android.

Teaming up with Microsoft could at least help establish its tablet among the business set.

The ability to receive and synchronize with emails on Microsoft servers is essential to any application or device hoping to make it big in business and should help establish the TouchPad in the hands of executives looking for a new toy – at least from a technology perspective.

In March 2008, Apple licensed Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync for use in the iPhone, released in June 2007. It was a move that made it possible for iPhone owners to access their work's Exchange Servers and to take advantage of its secure mobile communications features. This move helped turn the iPhone from consumer gadget into executive email tool.

The iPhone now has around a quarter of the US smart phone market.

Meanwhile, as part of the BlackBerry Office 365 service, RIM is turning into a service provider. It will run the BlackBerry Office 365 servers on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in its own datacenters. BES for Microsoft customers had run on servers inside Microsoft datacenters.

Taylor said running BES inside RIM's data centers would mean the service is operated by the engineers who build the service so "you will get a superior experience." "You will ensure you've got the latest and up to date software buy the guys who built the product," he said.

He claimed the service would be faster and more secure than if hosted by Microsoft.

The change will also likely mean RIM can quickly and easily update the service to add support for non-Microsoft software and services more quickly by having everything under its control. "There are other players and solutions in messaging as we think about our BES architecture," Taylor said.

RIM is backing the PlayBook's Office push by bringing connectivity and management capabilities similar to those found on its BlackBerry handsets to the yet-to-launch 7-inch tablet.

Future versions of the PlayBook will include capabilities for common functions such as provisioning, configurations, settings, policies, application management, and audit.

IT teams will be able to reset passwords and wipe information held on PlayBooks devices RIM said, although it wouldn't say when this would happen.

Policies and settings familiar to millions of users of RIM's existing BlackBerry handsets will be updated to make them suitable for a tablet in areas like security policy and provisioning on a network, Taylor said.

On connectivity, the PlayBook will initially support BlackBerry BridgeMode for secure access to email calendar, intranet, and web through BlackBerry pairing.

Bridge plans to grow the PlayBook's capabilities, and the recently announced BlackBerry Balance mode "will follow quickly behind". Balance mode will separate work and personal identities and information, to keep business data secure.

RIM said these changes are for IT departments that want to feel assured about deploying tablets for use on their corporate networks with access to their data by employees. ®

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