Monday, December 17, 2007

BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange from PACKT

A while back I was asked to provide a review of a book called BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange (LINK). It's published by PACKT Publishing and is by Mitesh Desai and Dan Renfroe. They are IT consultants from the UK and USA respectively.

For those who don't know, BlackBerry Enterprise Server is middleware that sits on top of an Microsoft Exchange Server software (or Lotus Notes Domino or other products). It provides management tools for IT admins for BlackBerrys in their organization and it serves as a translator between the BlackBerry devices and Exchange. With BlackBerry Enterprise Server installed you can get full wireless sync of calendars, notes, contacts and e-mails. If your organization limits itself to simply the consumer version of the Blackberry service, you'll merely get your e-mail pushed to you and will have to manually sync, by cable or Bluetooth, your calendar, notes and contacts.

Recently, BlackBerry has lowered the price of its server product in an effort to reach down to much smaller workgroups and organizations. Consequently, a greater number of internal and outsourced IT professionals will need to know how to manage this software and this book is good place to start.

I emphasize "start". It is pretty easy to set up a BlackBerry server. But it's also pretty easy to set it up wrong, as I learned after months of wondering why our server wasn't populating calendar entries correctly. I finally realized that you have to create a special login for the BlackBerry server and that our outsourced IT professional, unfamiliar with BlackBerrys, had neglected this important step. If he'd started with this book he'd have got off on the right track.

So, good book, clearly written, easy to follow, well indexed. My criticism however is that if you approach IT like many small businesses do, which means following instructions only in retrospect and having to trace your mistakes backwards, you may find this book slightly frustrating. What I would have wished is that it provided a more comprehensive list of common problems and mistakes. I'm sure that the writers have a long list of things that typically go wrong. This would have been helpful. Unfortunately, without such a compilation, you'll have to sift through all the user forums and plus RIM's own site to figure out what mistakes you're making and why it's taken you four hours to get the your boss's damn new BlackBerry Curve up and running--only to discover that if you'd just left it tethered to the server a little longer, the thing would have started to do it's activation sequence correctly. This is a book to start the BB Enterprise Server process with, not a reference manual to diagnose problems.

A lot is changing in the world of smartphones. In the US, Apple's iPhone outsold ALL windows mobile devices combined in Q3-2007 and almost outsold all BlackBerrys (LINK). But when I did finally get that Curve up and running I recognized the value of the BB Enterprise Server. Virtually everything transfered to the new phone and it was up and running, a seamless copy of the previous device. That sort of enterprise management is what gives RIM some measure of an edge. So, go RIM! and if you make the investment, throw this book on the requisition as well. But don't ask me what that cover picture on the book is supposed to signify!
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