Windows Mobile v BlackBerry in server showdown

Who's cheaper? Depends who you ask...

Who's cheaper? Depends who you ask...

Ditching BlackBerrys in favour of Windows Mobile devices could save companies a packet on server savings, according to Redmond - but not everyone's convinced.

Speaking at the London launch of the Palm Treo Pro, Alex Reeve, UK director of Microsoft's mobile communications business said Windows Mobile-based smart phones such as the Pro beat BlackBerrys on cost as they cut out the middleware.

Reeve said: "When you look at BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Server], the BlackBerry alternative… to manage 10,000 devices would require eight BES servers. Microsoft manages over 30,000 mobile devices worldwide on two Exchange servers and no middleware. And that's [including] the entire laptop population as well.

"That makes a great deal of different to a large enterprise - a massive difference in terms of money."

Tony Cripps, senior analyst at Ovum, said Microsoft's line is "a bit of an old argument". He told silicon.com: "It's right in as much as clearly there is a pre-integration now available with Exchange for Windows Mobile devices and other devices that have the ActiveSync protocol licensed from Microsoft…

"But really that saving [from not having to install a middleware server]… while it may be cheaper from an up-front capital expenditure point of view - because obviously you don't have to buy that additional server - it doesn't necessarily follow that it's going to be cheaper in terms of ongoing operation expenditure."

Cripps added that enterprises would also have to consider other factors, such as the overall reliability of the mobile hardware it chooses to deploy and the ongoing cost of supporting those devices.

"From my own experience with these things, I've found, for instance, that BlackBerry devices may not be the most functional devices that you ever come across but they are pretty reliable and they tend to do what it says on the tin. While Windows Mobile devices have got better over the years I still wouldn't have them on the same sort of level of reliability on an ongoing basis as BlackBerry devices," he said.

"So looked at in that light the ongoing op-ex cost to an enterprise of running Windows Mobile devices and doing the direct push Exchange... it may well be the case that on an ongoing basis it's actually more expensive to support Windows Mobile devices."

Phil Moore, Palm's UK and Ireland head of sales, said the company will be targeting the Microsoft-based Treo Pro at corporate users and IT infrastructure directors who are looking to mobilise their workforce. Cutting mobile infrastructure costs will be a key selling point, he believes. "This product's going to allow IT managers to simplify their infrastructure," he said. "We can actually reduce [enterprise] cost… by taking out BES servers etc."

BlackBerry-maker RIM declined a request for comment.

The Treo Pro runs the latest iteration of Windows Mobile - 6.1 - which Microsoft says has been designed with IT departments in mind.

Wi-fi and GPS have also been integrated into the Pro - a first for a Palm device. Palm's Moore said: "We've never bothered to look at this before because we wanted to make sure if we did it we got it right."

Moore added that a new Palm OS would be launching next year but declined to give further details.

He also hinted that the company may be developing a smart phone aimed squarely at the consumer market. "Watch this space," he said.