RealTime IT News

RIM Gives BlackBerry Server IT-Friendly Makeover

Research In Motion (RIM) said it has been listening to end users and IT managers alike on what they need to better integrate its BlackBerry more deeply into the enterprise.

As a result, the mobile device player said its new BlackBerry Server 4.1.5 release, announced today, should make both users and administrators happier.

Not coincidentally, it also could be a positive move for RIM itself, which is striving to keep its stronghold in the smartphone marketplace.

The release illustrates how user and IT-centric needs are evolving when it comes to mobile device use, said David Heit, RIM's director for enterprise product management.

"The end-user sophistication is growing at a fast clip," Heit told InternetNews.com. "Mobility has crossed the ravine in the business enterprise, so we also have to provide tactical solutions for the IT perspective as they're the first line of support."

The new features, which run the gamut from better document controls and user access to over 400 IT security policy settings, are the result of "very highly communicable customers," Heit said.

As he describes it, RIM had been providing a "one-size-fits-all" server solution. Now, a redesigned platform provides a customizable solution to meet unique security and user needs, Heit said.

For example, in the new release, RIM bolstered security beyond simple message and file encryption to include new a number of configurable document retention policy settings.

"IT now has the ability to decide whether messages and files can be read-only, or stored or [accessible] once stored," Heit said, adding that IT staff can also regulate file downloads. "After all, you don't want users downloading a 100MB product catalog so being able to set a reasonable range of 3MB to 10MB provides some control."

The system enables users to access archived e-mails more easily. For instance, if IT sets a 30-day retention policy on storing e-mail on devices, users can now open older e-mails via a remote search feature, pulling the messages off the server.

New IT security policies include the ability to view attachments within encrypted PGP and S/MIME messages, improved control access on GPS functionality and the ability to enable or disable certain Bluetooth profiles.

The new release also enables users and administrators to install software and manage a device online. The release features a Web-based management console to simplify software upgrades by controlling the number of BlackBerry software components installed on end-user workstations.

With the new release, RIM also shored up application development capabilities. New APIs supported includes the JSR 205 for wireless messaging 2.0, a content handler for using other applications to handle specific content types and Web services for client applications.

On the user side, v4.1.5 let users not only download documents various ways, they can decide how to view those files -- from an image preview to downloading and editing Microsoft Office documents using DataViz software.

There's also the enhanced ability to check calendar appointments for easier meeting request efforts, as well as improved rich text and HTML e-mail rendering.

Building on today's release, RIM said it has plans for further improvements to its server and device design.

In the near future, RIM expects to expand on administrators' capabilities, pushing out a BlackBerry monitoring service that will give them better monitoring, alerting, troubleshooting and reporting features.

It's unclear exactly when those enhancements -- which will ship with RIM's next server release -- will debut. RIM launched its last update in the middle of last year.

"There is a lot more to come in terms of capabilities given the mobile voice expectations," Heit said. "We've come a far way since its e-mail heritage days."

The latest effort comes as RIM seeks to continue its prominence in the enterprise -- the company has about 125,000 enterprise deployments, it said.

However, RIM faces competition from perennial rivals Palm and Microsoft, as well as smartphone vendors who already have sizable traction in consumer space.

ABI Research predicted RIM ended the year with about 10 percent of the combined consumer and business smartphone market -- the second-largest vendor in deployments behind mobile phone giant Nokia.

In a recent report, ABI said RIM would keep performing strongly into this year, but would "have to seek ways to include better features, improved design and a clearer [user interface] in its devices."

One thing RIM may have going for it is continued goodwill among users. The company's solution ranked highest in overall customer satisfaction among business smartphone users, according to a October 2007 study by J.D. Powers and Associates.