Exchange SP2 to Bring a Mobility Boost

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Microsoft this week announced an extension for its mobile platform that will more tightly integrate with Exchange Server 2003, adding new features and beefing up security for mobile devices.

Microsoft revealed at TechEd that the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0 will be available sometime this fall. It will work in concert with Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2, which is due to arrive at about the same time.

A key feature of the upgrade is the ability to remotely wipe out a hard drive, which was highlighted during a keynote presentation. This security feature is especially important for mobile devices, given their greater susceptibility to being lost or stolen.

The feature pack won't be backward compatible, so it won't be available to environments running previous versions of Exchange. A Microsoft official said that third-party vendors may be adding this functionality, however.

Microsoft touted some other enhancements of the feature pack, including the ability to look up global address information on a wireless device, and manage and enforce corporate IT policy over the air. John Starkweather, a senior product manager for Windows Mobile, said there's a huge untapped market for the advantages offered by the feature pack. There are between 130 million- 140 million Exchange users worldwide, he estimated, with only about 20 million people using mobile e-mail on any platform.

Although that number is relatively small, it appears the market has embraced the promise of mobile computing; Starkweather said there are currently about 40 OEMs building Windows Mobile devices today. One advantage they have over non-Windows mobile developers is the simplicity of the system. Windows Mobile uses a direct IP connection from Exchange to the device, cutting out middleware and other servers used in a multi-tiered environment like Blackberry. The data sent between the device and Exchange is encrypted for security. That simplicity, Microsoft hopes, will also lead to reduced hardware and software costs.

Cutting out the extra layers seems to speed up communications; a Microsoft demo showed a PDA synching with Exchange and pulling down e-mail, calendar, contact and other information in just seconds.

At its TechEd announcement of the feature pack, though, the focus was clearly on the security aspects of the update, in recognition of the public and IT's continuing wariness of Microsoft's track record on security when it comes to new products. The biggest security threat with mobile devices, Starkweather said, is "someone leaving the device somewhere."

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.