"Research in Motion is obviously a core competitor in the mobile information space, and you could say they've done a good job of owning that environment," Microsoft's Pieter Knook said during a recent visit to Sydney. The US-based executive is senior vice president, mobile and embedded devices and communications division.
John Hennessey, his counterpart in Australia, agreed with Knook and further admitted his company's Windows Mobile solution had so far "struggled" to gain mindshare with management-level executives.
The BlackBerry solution is widely marketed by mobile carriers like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone as a handheld e-mail platform. In contrast, Hennessey maintains the growth of Windows Mobile-based devices -- despite being quietly sold by the same carriers -- has mainly come from IT managers implementing the solution internally on their own.
Despite RIM's dominance, Knook contended in some areas IT managers could use Microsoft's Windows Mobile solution -- which currently runs on handsets from 41 manufacturers -- to cut costs that BlackBerry shops still had to pay.
Firstly, he said, companies which standardised on Windows Mobile could cut out the cost of the BlackBerry server which sits between their e-mail servers and the wider Internet. Knook also contended RIM's solution demanded more e-mail processing power.
"With the RIM scenario ... not only do you have to buy some extra [Microsoft's mail server] Exchange servers because of the load that's placed on them by the Blackberry front-end server, but each of those additional servers have a [RIM] client access licence associated with them," Knook claimed.
Knook also took aim at RIM's need to funnel customers' e-mail through its Canada headquarters, saying: "We have a direct connection between the e-mail environment and the device."
The executive said for an enterprise IT environment with 20,000 users, it would ultimately add up to a further US$1.5 million in total cost of ownership for companies standardising on RIM's solution.
This figure, he explained, was based on the need to buy 10 extra Exchange e-mail servers (US$76,000), 40 BlackBerry Enterprise servers (US$180,000), and US$1.2 million in licensing costs from RIM.
"You can obviously scale this down for a smaller number of users," he added.
RIM maintains its rival's allegations are a classic combination of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
"This is typical of the disinformation from Microsoft," RIM Asia-Pacific vice president Norm Lo told ZDNet Australia, denying a BlackBerry solution would drive companies to buy extra mail servers and corresponding licences.
"If you look at the total cost of ownership, the real hard expense is in the cost of the device and the cost of connectivity," Lo said. He claimed devices based on Windows Mobile typically cost an additional US$100 each and that RIM's devices were more efficient in their data usage.
Lo also saw his company's middleware e-mail server as a benefit, because it provided some form of relief in terms of maintenance work. "Microsoft expects the IT department to deploy, manage and maintain the system, including the requirement to link to the carrier networks supporting the service," he said. "There is no support from Microsoft; in the event of a disruption -- whether a carrier issue or something failing at the enterprise end -- you're on your own."
Another issue for IT managers to consider when choosing a solution, Lo said, was that enterprises must migrate their mail servers to Microsoft Exchange 2003 and Windows Mobile version 5 to take full advantage of Microsoft's solution.
"Not many companies have migrated to Exchange 2003 because it is a non-trivial and costly project for an already overburdened IT department," he said. "Furthermore, there aren't many handsets out there running the latest version of Windows Mobile."
Analyst firm IDC's wireless research manager Warren Chaisatien said there was no clear winner in the TCO debate, although he acknowledged RIM was currently dominating a market it had primarily created. It was important IT managers took into account their existing environment when choosing a solution, he said.
Chaisatien pointed out that other solutions, such as that from Palm, were available, and said the future would see RIM, Microsoft and others try to provide handheld access from business applications providers like SAP and Siebel.
Chaisatien estimated there are approximately 40,000 BlackBerry users in Australia -- with around three-quarters being Telstra customers.