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ActiveSync standards will cause ripples in wireless market

If you don't standardize company mobile devices, you're going to need a solution that synchronizes your devices when Microsoft adds ActiveSync to Exchange in 2007, says Florian von Kurnatowski, Scalix's open source programs director. This won't be the only ripple caused by this standard in the wireless synchronization market.

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In this interview, SearchOpenSource.com's enterprise Linux messaging expert describes calendaring standards, discusses the difficulties companies encounter due to a lack of TNEF support and explains how SyncML will affect interoperability standards.

With Microsoft adding ActiveSync to Exchange 2007, what affect will this have on the overall market for wireless synchronization products?

Florian von Kurnatowski: Exchange ActiveSync provides synchronization of both email and PIM data-like calendaring, contacts and tasks, from an Exchange mailbox to a mobile device. Notes are not supported. This feature is installed by default for the Client Access server role on Microsoft Exchange 2007 server.

This will commoditize wireless synchronization, a feature that was previously considered premium. Bundling wireless sync in Exchange 2007 and combining with OMADS will expand the number of users/employees who benefit from wireless synchronization of email, calendar and contacts.

True to form, ActiveSync will work best with phones running Microsoft Windows Mobile. IT managers with existing RIM's (Research in Motion) BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) infrastructures are not likely to jump to ActiveSync, but they may meander in that direction.

Further, those companies that do not purchase or dictate the mobile device for their employees will require a solution that synchronizes with other devices, such as Palm Treos. The wireless solutions that support multiple device types will benefit most.

What difficulties will IT shops encounter if their mail servers don't support Transport Neutral Encapsulation Format (TNEF)?

Kurnatowski: For other mail servers, co-existence with Exchange has always been challenging. The rich data is either stripped down to a plain text or included in an attachment named winmail.dat. The few mail servers on the market that support TNEF deliver a huge benefit to their end users. Rich messages, calendar items, contact and tasks sent from Exchange servers arrive and display fully represented to the users on the receiving end.

How does iCal aid companies' interoperability with partners or suppliers?

Kurnatowksi: iCal is a standard for exchanging calendaring information between different messaging systems. If both systems support iCal, a calendar invitation sent from one system will display as a calendar invitation to the invitee. Also known by the long name, iCalendar, it is fully defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in RFC 2445.

The iCalendar RFC was accepted in 1998. Given its age, it is still in broad use. CalDav is a companion standard in that it defines a standard way to access the collection of calendar events.

What does Synchronization Markup Language (SyncML) mean to interoperability standards?

Kurnatowski: SyncML is an open standard used to synchronize data to mobile devices like PDAs and smartphones. After the creation of the Open Mobile Alliance, it was renamed to Open Mobile Alliance Data Synchronization (OMADS). This standard defines device independent data synchronization (e.g. regardless of operating system or vendor). The goal is interoperability across devices, geographies and service providers/carriers. There is broad support for OMADS in the industry. Motorola, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Siemens, to name a few, already support the standard.

Any data types can be synchronized from server to mobile client. The most common data types today are email messages, calendar items and contacts. One can imagine customer data or entertainment, like music, in the future.

The current specification level is 1.1.2, with 1.2 on the near horizon. For additional information, check out the Open Mobile Alliance.

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This was first published in October 2006

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