July 29, 2009
One of the benefits of working at SmarterTools is that I get to ALPHA and BETA test the new features and functions of our products as they are being developed. Sometimes these new features are so cool that it is hard for me to keep quiet about them until they have been officially announced. The optional Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync add-on for SmarterMail 6.x is one of those times.
Is It ActiveSync or Exchange ActiveSync?
It is important that we understand that we are talking about Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (as opposed to ActiveSync for Windows). The similarity in naming has caused a little confusion.
As WindowsforDevices.com explains, ActiveSync for Windows was “designed to trade information between a Windows CE or Windows Mobile device and a desktop computer. This product only works via a serial cable, USB, Bluetooth, or other local connection.” This is the old-school, wired syncing that we all did with our first and second generation PDAs and has nothing to do with what we are talking about here.
Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync was launched in 2003 and has been greatly updated and enhanced over the years. It utilizes true push technology to synchronize emails, folders, calendars, contacts, and tasks over-the-air between a server and a mobile device. This is the technology now available as an optional add-on with SmarterMail 6.x.
SmarterMail Synchronization Then and Now
Last year’s major release of SmarterMail 5.x built upon our previous standard wired and Outlook synchronization technologies to include over-the-air synchronization for most mobile devices using SyncML protocols. As a result, the ability to sync mobile devices with SmarterMail was pretty good–my Blackberry synced in near real-time.
But we recognized that there were still mobile devices that were not supported by these methods (such as certain Nokia smartphones) and that some key collaboration tools were synced on some phones but not on others (for example, iPhone calendars). SmarterTools is committed to improving and expanding our products’ capabilities, and when we decided to improve SmarterMail’s mobile synchronization features, ActiveSync fit the bill.
Preliminary testing showed that Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync’s proprietary technology is, in a few words, blazingly fast. Indeed, this is the core advantage of ActiveSync’s patented approach as a series of methods for streamlining and accelerating the synchronization of email and collaboration information in two directions with mobile devices.
Core Advantages of SmarterMail with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync
Some key advantages ActiveSync holds over other synchronization methods include:
- Low impact on battery life. Because other synchronization methods are less efficient in how they handle data, some sync types use a lot more radio transmission time. Actual transmission is the most power-intensive thing a cell phone or mobile device does and it dramatically eats away at battery life. Cutting seconds off of over-the-air data transmission can add hours of uptime in between charging your mobile devices.
- True two-way syncing. Changes made in SmarterMail’s Webmail interface or associated email clients like Microsoft Outlook are quickly pushed to the mobile device and changes made on the mobile device are updated on the mail server just as quickly. No additional actions are necessary.
- Speed, speed, speed. Microsoft was smart to get patents on their ActiveSync methods. During SmarterTools’ detailed evaluation of the technology, it was my job to read through all of the patent descriptions for the several technologies covered. Their proprietary changes make real improvements and are quite clever. Sometimes the small things make all of the difference.
- More devices and more syncing. As I write this, SmarterMail is one of the few mail products licensed to include and resell Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. However, there are many device and firmware manufacturers that have embraced this technology, including Apple, Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Sony Ericsson, and Symbian, and it is already available on hundreds of different smartphone models.
SmarterMail with ActiveSync: It Works
I have had the opportunity to test the new Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync add-on with my Apple iPhone 3Gs. The set up was easy—just a few clicks on the iPhone and a query to our internal SmarterMail 6.x server and my contacts, calendars, email, and folders were fully synced. The whole process took a little over a minute to complete and made hundreds of contacts and a month’s worth of email and calendar information accessible from my iPhone. (By the way, you can set the iPhone and ActiveSync to grab data from the last few days, weeks, months, or more.)
I tested the two-way sync extensively, accepted calendar items, created new calendar items, edited contacts, and sent email. The synching and updating of data was seamless in both the Webmail interface and on the iPhone. The screens refreshed in seconds—sometimes before I even had the chance to click the stopwatch. It was amazing.
With the ability to sync my iPhone with SmarterMail via Exchange ActiveSync, I’m no longer tied to my computer. I can work from anywhere and am only seconds away from accessing my emails, invites, and other data. I have truly become a mobile worker.
A Few Final Words about SmarterMail and Synchronization
The existing on-board synching tools included with SmarterMail will be more than sufficient for many users. However, power users and demanding customers (a list that now includes me) will quickly become addicted to the speed and additional functionality of SmarterMail 6.x with ActiveSync. Hosting providers and ISPs will likely find that users are willing to pay a premium for email service that includes the ActiveSync add-on. When coupled with the enhanced archiving and mailing list features coming in version 6.x, small to medium-sized businesses will find that SmarterMail is a solid, cost-effective alternative to Microsoft Exchange.
Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation [MSFT]. Blackberry is a trademark of Research in Motion Ltd. [RIMM]. iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc. [AAPL]. All other images, logos, and product names mentioned in this post are the trademarks and/or copyrights of their respective owners. Other publicly traded companies mentioned in this post include Motorola Inc. [MOT], Palm Inc. [PALM], and Nokia [NOK].
This post was written by Jeff H., vice-president of business operations for SmarterTools. If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to the SmarterTools Blog so you don’t miss an update.