Microsoft Mobilizes Messaging
Microsoft Corp. announced the availability of Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration version 3.5 today, touting it as a full-featured package that allows service providers to equip SMBs with messaging functionality and security previously available mostly to larger organizations. The list of new features in this upgrade includes online presence management, mobile synchronization, email services, data access, team Web sites, and automated deployment. But the most important technical nugget is support for Exchange Server 2003 SP2, including the long-rumored Magneto push technology. The ability to provide email and other messaging features without resorting to an intermediary will allow Microsoft to compete directly with RIM, developer of the BlackBerry device and the server software that makes it work.
"This opens up a new business model for those partners who want to provide messaging services for Windows Mobile-based phones," says Morgan Cole, senior product manager. "We have also provided a migration tool to make the transition to our messaging solution quick and easy." According to Cole, the hosted option for Microsoft messaging provides one more route for Microsoft partners to deliver timely and secure communications to businesses whose resources or method of operation don't easily permit in-house provisioning. "We view Microsoft's onsite and hosted delivery models as complementary to one another," Cole says. One of the key benefits to hosted providers and their customers with this release is automated deployment, which eases rollout significantly. "We've gone from a mostly manual setup to one where up to 85 percent of the deployment is out-of-the-box, which can cut deployment time by up to two-thirds," Cole says. "If a provider is new to the game or is uncertain about how best to proceed with a rollout," he continues, Microsoft's scripts, sample code, documentation, and other tools will speed the process and the resulting customer acquisition.
Marcel Nienhuis, market analyst for The Radicati Group, agrees with Cole's assessment. "Microsoft is adding new mobile messaging capabilities that will allow direct push and the ability to remotely wipe a device if it is lost. When we talk to hosted email customers, 'wireless email' is always near the top of their wish list, so I think this enhancement will be greeted with enthusiasm." Nienhuis says outsourced email makes good sense for SMBs. "Managing email isn't very simple anymore, because...you also need to worry about spam, viruses, storage issues, compliance, mobility, downtime, keeping up with upgrades, etc. Outsourcing all of these concerns for $10 to $15 per month is an attractive alternative."
In addition to email messaging, Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration includes support for Office Live Communicator, Microsoft's enterprise IM client. Nienhuis notes that while hosted email providers aren't finding much success with IM yet, "I think that will change soon, and support for Office Live Communicator should help drive adoption."
The arrival of a Magneto-enabled messaging package could change the competitive landscape. "The biggest effect might be on companies like RIM BlackBerry," Nienhuis says. "If Microsoft's new mobile capabilities are impressive enough, and cheaper than Blackberry, I think customers will gradually move in Microsoft's direction." Excitement about the loosening of RIM's hold on mobile messaging aside, Nienhuis recommends circumspection. "I'd advise a potential hosted email customer to choose a well known, established provider. Since it has become so easy to offer hosted email, we see a lot of smaller shops close their doors."
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