Opinion: Hardware/software split helps e-mail

Ever since Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIM) BlackBerry e-mail pagers hit the enterprise, they’ve been badges and handy tools for executives who want continuous access to e-mail. They’ve also been ongoing IT headaches.

RIM, the pioneer in the marketplace, has married its hardware and software, much like Apple Computer Inc.’s Macintosh. Well, as luck would have it, RIM is encountering a competitor that has separated the hardware dependencies of the software.

Upstart Good Technology Inc. is trying to best RIM at the wireless game with software that runs on RIM hardware and soon will work with Pocket PCs, Palm handhelds and a yet-to-be-released Good device. If Good can deliver, enterprise IT managers will have a choice regarding the wireless spread of e-mail.

Hardware independence is nice, but IT managers have wanted some refinements to RIM’s approach. Good’s offering includes an e-mail synchronization service that pumps your desktop e-mail directly to your pager, instead of RIM’s redirect service. Plus, there’s no cradle, no desktop client and a novel way to set up the server behind the firewall to provide continuous e-mail transmission using the Mobitex network.

With Good, when you configure one of its synchronization servers, it will connect with your Exchange 2000 servers. With RIM, you’ve got to establish one-to-one relationships between the Exchange servers and the synchronization servers.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Good claims that sometime this summer it will offer a lightweight, Web-like query service that will connect to corporate applications. Good seems to have IT in mind.

By cutting ties between software and hardware, Good has focused the debate over what these little gadgets can do. Rather than just transmitting e-mail, they’ll become tools to get selective information from the corporate database. And from IT’s vantage point, possibly a bit easier to deploy.

Gregory Agahigian, director of global enterprise systems at Boston-based Thomson Financial, has moved about 100 of 400 RIM BlackBerry users over to Good’s technology as a test. He says benefits include no software on the desktop (meaning a lower cost of deployment), no cradle, attachment reading and fewer troubleshooting calls.

Rates of US$40 per month per user for airtime, client-side licenses of $50 per month and server licenses of $2,000 to $3,000 are less than what RIM charges, according to both companies’ information. But for Agahigian, price isn’t much of a factor.

“The dollar savings isn’t the big deal,” says Agahigian. “We’re just looking for something technically simpler and better.”

That’s a lesson on why hardware and software don’t necessarily belong under the same roof. Pimm Fox is Computerworld’s West Coast bureau chief. Contact him at pimm_fox@computerworld.com.