Mobile software Monday: 4Smartphone hosted Exchange with mobile device clients

While my focus in the Mobile software Monday articles is on software for your mobile phones I wanted to branch out just a bit to include a service that I use in conjuction with software on my devices that I find absolutely essential to my usage of mobile devices. Jason Dunn runs the Thoughts Media sites and preached to me for a couple of years about the benefits of a hosted Exchange solution. I finally decided to give it a try just over a year ago and now I can never go back to syncing my PIM data via cables again. I subscribe to 4Smartphone (part of Jason's recommendation) with their Mobile level plan subscription (US$12.95/month) and sync my Windows Mobile, S60, Windows, and Mac devices to the service, with hopes to soon sync my iPhone when the 2.0 update is released.

Mobile software Monday: 4Smartphone hosted Exchange with many mobile devices
While my focus in the Mobile software Monday articles is on software for your mobile phones I wanted to branch out just a bit to include a service that I use in conjuction with software on my devices that I find absolutely essential to my usage of mobile devices. Jason Dunn runs the Thoughts Media sites and preached to me for a couple of years about the benefits of a hosted Exchange solution. I finally decided to give it a try just over a year ago and now I can never go back to syncing my PIM data via cables again. I subscribe to 4Smartphone (part of Jason's recommendation) with their Mobile level plan subscription (US$12.95/month) and sync my Windows Mobile, S60, Windows, and Mac devices to the service, with hopes to soon sync my iPhone when the 2.0 update is released.

What is hosted Exhange and do you need it?: Many companies have Exchange, BlackBerry, or Novell servers that work to provide email and data synchronization to their employees. However, there are many small businesses and those, like me, who have personal data we don't want managed on our work servers. For these people, the ability to sync their calendar, contacts, tasks, and email wirelessly across various platforms and devices can be invaluable.

Exchange AS settings
I know that I am in the minority, but with today's mobile workforce there are a number of people who have multiple mobile devices that they want to keep in sync. I switch my devices quite often and with a hosted Exchange service I can be up and running with all of my personal data in just a few minutes after unboxing a new device. Windows Mobile and S60 don't play that well with Apple computers, unless you use some outstanding 3rd party applicatons, so having the ability to keep my MacBook Pro in sync with the same data stored on these devices is essential and I personally never cable these devices to my MBP.

ActiveSync on Windows Mobile: Windows Mobile devices all come with ActiveSync preloaded in the operating system. Most people use this ActiveSync client to sync to their PC via a USB cable, but if you tap/select the right menu then you will see there is an option to Configure Server... and setup your device to sync to an Exchange server. Configuration is fairly straight forward and you start by entering the server address, then your username, password, and domain. The final step is to check what data you want to sync, Contacts, Calendar, E-mail, and Tasks. Advanced settings in Calendar let you choose how far into the past to sync appointments. More options in E-mail let you choose how far in the past to sync, message format (HTML/text), download size limit, and attachment settings.

You can also select how often messages are received and your data is synced and the latest Exchange client and Windows Mobile devices support Push email. Jason Langridge has a great article on Windows Mobile and Push Email that is a few years old, but still quite relevant and informative.

Scheduling sync

You can only have a single Exchange account setup on your Windows Mobile device so if you already have an Exchange account at work, then you may want to ask your IT department about Exchange ActiveSync and if they support this feature on your network.

Mail for Exchange
Mail for Exchange on S60: Nokia seems to have realized that there are people with Nseries and Eseries device that want to sync to Exchange servers and now provides their Mail for Exchange client for free for selected S60 devices. The Eseries devices have this utility preloaded since the Eseries is targeted to the enterprise, but it is a couple of quick simple steps to download the utility for your S60 device.

After installing, you have to perform the same type of steps as with Windows Mobile, configuring the server, choosing what data to sync, and how you want that data synced. The setup and application is pretty straight forward and also fairly basic to give you just the basics of syncing your data. You do have the ability to use contacts stored on your server to send messages, but there is no message search functionality.

RoadSync on S60: DataViz is well-known for their outstanding mobile applications, particularly their Documents To Go suite, and they also develop the outstanding RoadSync application that takes syncing with Exchange to the next level on S60 devices. I understand they also have versions for other mobile operating systems, but their latest and greatest version runs on S60 devices. This support includes those devices that are not compatible with Mail for Exchange.

RoadSync settings
With Mail for Exchange being a free utility, you may be asking why you would want to pay US$49 for RoadSync. RoadSync, combined with an Exchange 2007 server, gives you meeting response capability, email flagging, online mailbox search (a very useful and powerful feature in itself), SharePoint file access, Global Address List, remote wipe capability (important for security), and more.

I personally like the way I can manage all of my hosted Exchange email folders right form my device, similar to the experience on Windows Mobile. The Nokia Mail for Exchange application doesn't support this advanced functionality.

You can check out some of my thoughts on RoadSync from last year too.

Outlook on a Windows PC: I have Outlook 2007 on my Fujitsu U810 UMPC and followed the simple setup guidelines on my 4Smartphone account page to setup Outlook to sync with my hosted Exchange service. By the way, you get a free copy of Outlook 2007 with your 4Smartphone hosted Exchange service plan.

Entourage on a Mac: My MacBook Pro is my main PC at home and I use Entourage to sync to my 4Smartphone account. A great feature of using hosted Exchange is the elimination of duplicates that often happen when you sync devices and computers to each other in different locations and at different times.

If you have a Mac, then you can get a free copy of Entourage 2008 too with your 4Smartphone account. I actually just discovered that this version is available after visiting my setup page to prepare for this article.

Outlook Web Access (OWA): Your 4Smartphone account also gives you Outlook Web Access support so you can access your account from anywhere with a web browser and connection. This can be helpful when you are at the library or at a family members' house. OWA also looks great on a Nokia Internet Tablet.

Available plans: You can view a comparison chart of the two mobile plans that differ in price by US$3 per month. The Mobile Plus plan includes 1GB of disk space vs. 500 MB with all the other features being the same. You can also purchase additional disk space if you need it. My current email practice is to use my 4Smartphone account for seemless syncing across platforms and devices with the email serving mainly to notify me of Gmail that I have received. I then use Gmail and IMAP access to archive my messages.

4Smartphone also has team and enterprise plans available.

4Smartphone supports BlackBerry devices (with a slightly different pricing scheme) and they are even gearing up to target iPhone owners with their new 4iphone site.

Conclusion: There are other hosted Exchange solutions out there, but after recently trying another one that is cheaper I quickly cancelled it and decided to stick with 4Smartphone since their service has been excellent, I can use my Gmail email address to manage my account without having to have a domain, and they are very experienced with mobile devices. I have been with them now for over a year and have yet to have any failure with their service and highly recommend you give them a try if you decide to go with a hosted Exchange service. You can try their service for free for 15 days too so there really is no risk in trying them out.