Is ActiveSync an "Open" Apple Trojan Horse? - Wait-a-Thon

iphone_activesync_trojan.jpg

Roughly Drafted, the passionate little partisan site that could, is back with a look at why Apple would choose to license ActiveSync from Microsoft while at the same time championing more open standards like IMAP and CalDAV with Leopard Server.

Having suffered under the anti-trust encrusted fist of Microsoft previously with both Excel (originally launched on Mac) and Internet Explorer (which at one time shipped with OS X) to name but two examples of Redmond's penchant for partnercide, Roughly Drafted explains how licensing a technology is different than licensing an an application. Namely, if you rely on a partner to deliver an application as your solution, your customers grow accustomed to and invested in that solution, and you become dependent on and, ultimately subject to, that partner (and the brutish manipulations thereof). However, if you license a technology and build your own application, your customers see only your front end and if ever a partner attempts to surreptitiously bury twelve inches of pointy steel between your shoulder blades, you can always license a competing technology -- or switch the back-end to your own, already existing, technology.

In fact, as Apple develops its own Mac OS X Server integration with the iPhone, and develops tight integration with its own .Mac services on a subscription basis, it can wean iPhone users from Exchange Server toward its own products using the powerful incentive of much lower infrastructure and per user costs. However, there won’t be any customers to entice if the iPhone doesn’t first ship support for Exchange.

Having lived and worked through the rise of Internet Explorer 6 and the amazing power, convenience, security nightmare, and proprietary market-grab it created, and the even more compelling, insidious sameness of Exchange Server, I both appreciate the concepts Microsoft brought to the business table and detest the method in which they brought them. Why?

Communication needs to be free (as in freedom from single-vendor lockdowns) and small and medium sized businesses need the ability to be able to move to and from whichever service provides the best capability at the best price to suit their needs. IMAP IDLE and CalDAV may not be the solution, but they're part of getting away from the problems of Exchange, and if the iPhone can sneak them into more IT shops, and into the mindsets of more be-fud'ed IT departments, then sneak away!

What do you think?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Is ActiveSync an "Open" Apple Trojan Horse? - Wait-a-Thon

26 Comments

Never have been a fan of activesync. I wonder how many headaches it will give iPhone users...
Ignoring the conspiracy theory (sounds like a good plan) but Exchange Activesync works wonderfully. I rent a hosted exchange service, and have my desktop, laptop, PDA, HTC Vox and HTC Kaiser all synced at the same time. Change something and its synced somewhere else. I dont just use it for push e-mail, but for tasks, calender and PIM too, and when I get a new device I just enter my exchange details, and all my info flows straight into the device, no desktop needed.
Like Stevie said, BOOM!
Surur

I also enjoy the ease of which exchange activesync works and am excited about having it on the iPhone.

From an end-user perspective, if you don't mind being locked in to Outlook and Internet Explorer (or suffering through IMAP and crippled-web versions in other apps), then ActiveSync and Exchange are both brilliant.
From an administrator perspective, they are (at least prior to 2007 version, I haven't used that yet), annoying as heck, with so many artificial restrictions, poor GUI (or CLI-only!!) setups, and other nightmarish implementations that the mind boggles.
From an exec perspective, the low-cost of buy in, but incredible nickel and diming that goes into every license and yearly fee is painful. (Sorry, you've outgrown the 20 user starter, you need to buy more licenses -- but wait, you 20 user license doesn't allow for more users or for upgrades, so you've got to re-buy them all first, and don't forget that's for client, service, and server...!)

Frankly, not having Exchange ActiveSync is what has been holding me up on the purchase of an iPhone. Pulling e-mail of a POP server on my WinMob device was entirely too frustrating. When I switched to Outlook push e-mail via exchange, I became too deeply entrenched to give it up. Come June, it's 2nd Gen iPhone with ActiveSync for me!

ActiveSync is ubiquitous only because it's part of every Windows operating system these days.
That does not make sense at all. Windows does not ship with Activesync. Exchange Activesync only works with desktop outlook, and you have to pay big bucks for that. Probably the majority of mobile devices with exchange Activesync are shipped by Nokia, in their N-series phones.
Maybe its ubiquitous because Exchange is very widely used in business? Or would that make too much sense?
Surur

Does Entourage use ActiveSync proper? I almost fell off my chair last year when the head of the MS Mac BU said they went and talked FOR THE FIRST TIME to the Exchange people. How Microsoft fails to leverage even their greatest assests is stupefying...

How Microsoft fails to leverage even their greatest assests is stupefying...
You mean like leveraging their desktop monopoly to enter new markets and overcome embedded competitors?
Ive heard thats illegal.....
Surur

Probably the majority of mobile devices with exchange Activesync are shipped by Nokia, in their N-series phones.
I'm not sure that's so. To get Exchange working on my E61 I had to download the (free) 'Mail4Exchange' software from the Nokia site. I seem to recall that this wasn't (at one time at least) available at all for the N95 (I remember reading discussions of workarounds to get the E series Mail4Exchange working).

I don't think so, active sync is pretty handy and hands-free. Great way to easily organize your important data.

What Microsoft did was not illegal, the way in which they did it was illegal.
If they hadn't used intel to steal Quicktime and just developed their own successful competitor, they would have been fine (although it appears after years and many versions they couldn't, which is rather baffling). If they had just made IE a download instead of forcing it into the OS, they would have been fine. Etc. Etc.
We've had this discussion before. Windows Live is brilliant, and a perfect example of how Microsoft can deliver superior apps without extorting manufacturers, stealing code, creating artificial tie-ins, or otherwise acting illegally.
Likewise, having the Entourage team talk to the Exchange and Outlook teams is not only perfectly legal, but inescapably a best-practices scenario. That they hadn't done so until recently is very troubling from a consumer perspective.

So by that logic OSX should not ship with iTunes, right? Having software built-in is some kind of sin, isn't it?
So whats wrong with bundling Mobile Device Centre with every desktop. Makes sense, doesn't it? I plug in my WM phone, and the software to sync it is there already. I wonder who is stopping MS from doing that. I wonder....
Surur

Microsoft didn't just ship IE with Windows, they artificially tied IE into the core OS so that everything, including the file manager, couldn't function without it. Again, not what they did but how they did it.
Doesn't every Windows machine support (Active)sync'ing with a WinMob phone already?

Doesn't every Windows machine support (Active)sync'ing with a WinMob phone already?
Strangely enough - no. You have to download it. I wonder why.... Maybe it has something to do with a certain browser and idiots who complained about it being bundled.
And having a browser front end for your OS is actually very innovative - in fact I though the new OS made by ACCESS (Makers of the netfront browser) would do just that.
If the concept had been embraced (vs being a source for litigation) active content on the desktop (now called widgets) would have been common a lot earlier.
Surur

It wasn't just IE that caused the litigation, it was Microsoft abusing their monopoly by extorting vendors into deliberately excluding Netscape that went to the heart of the matter.
Opinion is mixed about the browser as file viewer, since Mac's finder offers both browser and spatial representation views. Old school believes you should never be able to have more than one representation of a file viewable at any one time, which a browser-based view clearly allows.
(I personally like the browser-view option).

This sounds great that apple is bringing exchange support to the iPhone, I am sure many business professionals will like the option of using the iPhone. I am not familiar enough with exchange (not being a business user of it), is it cost prohibitive for a casual home user?

Yes and no. Exchange is a server-side application which talks to local client-side apps like Outlook, Entourage, and ActiveSync-licensees.
To run your own Exchange server, even if you get in on one of the entry-level (*cough* traps *cough*) "action pack" style promos, or abuse an MSDN subscription (which is technically for development work, not production use), you're looking at forking out for Windows Server and Exchange (I think each may come with 5 client licenses, but additional licenses can quickly increase costs). Some are one-time expenses, others can require yearly fees.
Plus, you have the pleasure of running, hardening, and maintaining a server and Exchange, which can be a full time network admin job.
For a home user, you can usually find service providers running Exchange who charge you a monthly or yearly subscription fee for an Exchange account. If you *really* want Exchange at home and you're not a rich, uber-geek, with a tolerance for frustration approaching the infinite, this is probably the way to go.

For a home user, you can usually find service providers running Exchange who charge you a monthly or yearly subscription fee for an Exchange account. If you *really* want Exchange at home and you're not a rich, uber-geek, with a tolerance for frustration approaching the infinite, this is probably the way to go.
No need to make it sound like such a pain. Hosted Exchange is very popular, costs from $5-10 per month (and there are even some free services) and gives you a lot of benefits and control over your device, e.g. you could do a remote wipe of your phone if you lose it, and you can keep multiple devices in sync with PIM and e-mail. Its well worth it if you have more than 1 device which you use actively (including laptops).
Surur

No need to make it sound like such a pain. Hosted Exchange is very popular, costs from $5-10 per month (and there are even some free services) and gives you a lot of benefits and control over your device, e.g. you could do a remote wipe of your phone if you lose it, and you can keep multiple devices in sync with PIM and e-mail. Its well worth it if you have more than 1 device which you use actively (including laptops).
Surur
I've been looking into hosting it on my own server, but MS does seem to make it a pain - it seems to require a 64-bit OS? Doesn't seem to be any real open source alternative that doesn't require client software such as outlook plugins, unless I missed something?

I've been looking into hosting it on my own server, but MS does seem to make it a pain - it seems to require a 64-bit OS? Doesn't seem to be any real open source alternative that doesn't require client software such as outlook plugins, unless I missed something?
There is an open source exchange activesync implementation. This way M$-h8ers can have their cake and eat it too.
Z-push
Mobile data synchronization is becoming increasingly important for many people, and various standards have arisen to perform this two-way copying 'over-the-air'. The most important platforms that can do wireless synchronisation are ActiveSync that is used to communicate with Exchange Server and Research-in-Motion's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Both solutions require proprietary server-side software from the vendor, therefore limiting the use of PIMs (personal information managers) to either wired synchronization or irritating 3rd-party synchronizers requiring the installation of client software on the PDA.
This is where Open source Z-Push comes in; it is an implementation of Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol which is used 'over-the-air' for multi platform active sync devices, including Windows Mobile and active sync used on Ericsson and Nokia phones. Open source Z-Push enables any PHP-based groupware package to become fully syncable with any ActiveSync-compliant device.
Being an opensource project under the GPL, it allows developers to add their own backend so that Z-Push can communicate with their groupware solution.
Currently, Z-Push is available with only four backends: the IMAP and the maildir backend for e-mail synchronisation, the vCard backend for contact synchronisation and one for the commercial Zarafa package which is sold by allowing full synchronization of E-mail, Calendar and Contacts. We expect that other backends arise in the near future as the opensource community gets to grips with the new possibilitieshttp://z-push.sourceforge.net/soswp/
Modaco wrote about it over here. Seems to work reasonably well.http://www.modaco.com/content/Windows-Mobile-News/265175/Z-Push-open-sources-Server-Activesync/
Surur

not a h8er. i have 2 64-bit servers running windows xp pro 32. Just don't want to install a new OS just for exchange for two users.

Now if only my company would set up Exchange ActiveSync on their Exchange server. They only have IMAP access configured, so I've never been able to get push email on my WM devices either. Maybe one day.

That's unusual. In my experience IT is typically far more resistant to IMAP than MAPI.
(Would that MS would provide easier, more secure IMAP options for Exchange... though it would break the pesky proprietary lock in...)