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Microsoft cozies up to mobile managers

Microsoft says it will soon answer the pleas of mobile device administrators by adding handheld device management capabilities to its Exchange Server e-mail system.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Exchange administrators who manage an increasingly mobile work force got some promised help...

from Microsoft today. The software maker said it will release an add-on to Exchange Server 2003 that offers security management features for mobile hardware such as BlackBerry devices and smart phones.

<p>At TechEd 2005, Microsoft said it will deliver the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0, which is based on wireless features coming in Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2, due out later this year. The software is a direct competitor to management technology offered by Research In Motion Ltd., Waterloo, Ontario.

<p>The ability to manage mobile work forces is a challenge for IT administrators who deal with a variety of devices that users want to connect to corporate networks. In many cases, these devices don't belong to the organizations that end up supporting them.

<p>Microsoft's software includes direct push technology, which pushes e-mail and other information out to mobile devices. It lets IT administrators manage such devices from a central console, and allows them to wipe a device clean remotely should it become lost or stolen. The technology is included as part of an Exchange license, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, so mobile management features will be included. RIM customers today have to pay for mobile management features.

<p>IT managers said Microsoft's technology is nothing new, but cost alone is enough for them to take notice. "This is just extending the capabilities of Exchange," said Coan Dillahunty, enterprise systems supervisor at Gurasich, Spence, Darilek and McClure (GSD&M), an Austin, Texas-based advertising agency.

<p>"From a cost standpoint, we would just drop BlackBerry &#91;Enterprise Server&#93; when &#91;the Microsoft&#93; product comes to market," Dillahunty said.

<p>The agency currently has about 700 mobile workers. Roughly one-fifth of those workers use a BlackBerry and one-half have laptops.

<p>Joseph Babcock, a network systems administrator at Acosta Sales and Marketing Co., a Jacksonville, Fla., company that works with consumer-packaging firms, said he thought the Microsoft mobile management technology was somewhat more advanced than the BlackBerry Enterprise Server he currently uses. "I think it's a security step up," he said.

<p>At the conference today, Ballmer offered little news from his company, only a few reminders about what is on tap for Microsoft later this year with regard to the planned shipment of SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005.

<p>Microsoft also made available the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) patch management tool and Microsoft Update, and said Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 2.0 and Systems Management Server 2003 Inventory Tool are both due out later this summer.

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