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ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley Says Apple’s iPhone Needs ActiveSync

Daniel Eran Dilger

Mary Jo Foley, who describes her ZDNet blog as “an unblinking eye on Microsoft,” seems to have been charged with the unpleasant task of producing a somewhat positive sounding iPhone story, and gave it her best shot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very well thought out, and reflects a preoccupation with flattering Microsoft.
.ZDNet’s General Enrapturement with iPhone Naysaying.

A gaggle of ZDNet bloggers were earlier called out for gushing a stream of uninformed negativity about the iPhone. It’s certainly appropriate and useful to be critical of strategies and engineering decisions made in an upcoming product, but ZDNet and its CNET parent aren’t offering honest criticism, just generating FUD.
 
Among the panicked ideas published in ZDNet’s many blogs was the fear that it
might break if dropped and that the iPhone requires a more expensive service plan that it really does–while other phones that require an even more expensive service plan than the iPhone’s are only referred to by their fake subsidized hardware cost.
 
When I criticized the Zune as a product, I pointed out specific flaws. I also countered mythical bemusings of how Microsoft would “probably give it away” just to be a good citizen and gain market share. Why was ZDNet gushing false positives for the dreadful Zune last fall, and why is it gushing false negatives for the iPhone now? That should be no mystery to RDM readers.
 
Coincidently, I got it right on the Zune, and I believe I’m right in touting the iPhone as a significant game changer today. That’s because I don’t owe my opinion to anyone, and I don’t answer to corporate editorial overlords. I just say what I think, so all that advertising money I don’t get doesn’t affect what I say.


 
If readers buy an iPod or a Zune (it happens, I swear) using my Amazon links, I get a commission and get to go to a movie. I even get PayPal donations sometimes, so thanks for that.
 
[
The Microsoft iPod-Killer Myth]
[Strike 3: Why Zune will Bomb this Winter]
[10 Ways Microsoft Can Salvage their iPod Killer]
[Zune vs. iPhone: Five Phases of Media Coverage]
[Ten More Myths of Zune]
[Ten Myths of the Apple iPhone]
 
Mary Jo Foley and Email.

Maybe I’m suffering from a persecution complex, but when I read comments posted by dyed in the wool Windows Enthusiasts, I can’t help but feeling like they are either really crafty, or simply unable to write objectively. I write for fun. They’re getting paid to inform.
 
Foley says “a number of articles and analyst reports claimed that Apple’s iPhone would not be compatible with Exchange Server, Research in Motion’s Blackberry servers and Motorola’s Good Technology e-mail servers.
 
”While I can’t speak to Apple’s plans regarding Blackberry and Good, my sources are saying Apple can and will make the iPhone compatible with Exchange Server.“
 
Is it just me, or is Foley trying to insinuate and perpetuate the false idea that
the iPhone is incompatible with ”corporate email systems“? This is not true, any more than the suggestion that AAC is a proprietary Apple format.
 
RIM’s BlackBerry and Motorola’s Good servers are not corporate email servers, they are
push email add-ons that deliver email for simple mobiles that don’t have the capacity to use the real Internet. That’s why we don’t have to pay RIM or Good $2-300 annually per user to get emails to our laptops. Only simple mobiles use push.
 
Push is not corporate email. Email is based on open Internet standards outside of a few proprietary extensions. The iPhone supports sending and receiving email from corporate systems, as well as via webmail using Safari.
 
[
The iPhone will be compatible with Microsoft Exchange, after all | All about Microsoft - ZDNet.com]

A Proprietary Pushing Match.
Unlike RIM and Good, Microsoft’s Exchange Server actually is an email server, but it incorporates its own push server as part of its Outlook Web webmail add-on. Microsoft’s Direct Push part is a bolted-on component designed to embrace and extinguish the functionality now provided by RIM and Good servers.
 
Microsoft’s business model is to identify popular products, copy them, and then replace them. Right now, RIM and Good (I feel dirty every time I write that) are very popular for use with mobiles. Microsoft’s copycat Direct Push product is not that great, but the company hopes to leverage its position with Exchange to push its followers to go with an all-Microsoft solution rather than using what they have now.
 
In
Using Apple’s iPhone in the Enterprise, one IT manager noted ”Microsoft’s ‘push’ email solution has been a commercial failure.“ Give it time–and enough FUD–and Microsoft will replace today’s proprietary push systems with its own proprietary push system. Or, we can decide that we don’t want more proprietary vendor lock-in, and start adopting open standards such as the IETF’s Push-IMAP. That’s Apple’s strategy with the iPhone.

 
Foley appears to prefer drumming up support for Microsoft’s lock-in. After all, in an open market with a level playing field, will we really need someone keeping an unblinking eye on Microsoft?
 
It seems reasonable to suggest that such an unblinking eye might vanish in a dramatic cataclysm not unlike the one described at the end of
Lord of the Rings.
 
[
Using Apple's iPhone in the Enterprise]
 
Microsoft, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.
Foley describes a solution to the iPhone’s fictitious incompatibility with corporate email by suggesting that an anonymous source informed her that Apple has ”licensed the Exchange ActiveSync licensing protocol.“ I am not making this up. Remember too that Foley is getting paid to write this.
 
For being an unblinking eye on the company, Foley doesn’t seem to grasp much about Microsoft. She also doesn’t seem to know anything about Apple at all. After dropping that poorly worded anonymous suggestion, she then cited Microsoft’s licensing terms for ActiveSync.
 
It should be pointed out that Microsoft uses marketing names broadly, so than even Neanderthals can drop them like buzzwords without really knowing what they are talking about, and still
look like they do by sheer coincidence.
 
ActiveSync was originally used to refer to Windows desktop sync; it is Microsoft’s grab and take version of Palm’s HotSync. Plug in phones and PDAs, and Microsoft manages all the syncing with desktop apps, including Microsoft’s Outlook email, contacts, and calendaring client.
 
In Foley’s context however, ActiveSync refers to Microsoft’s push email system which works over the web using WebDAV. It’s a specialized software client that runs on Windows Mobile phones, allowing them to use Exchange’s webmail, but with a ”real app“ interface rather than the basic Outlook Web Access webmail viewed in a browser. It’s a thin client for accessing OWA webmail.
 
Foley suggests that Apple should pay Microsoft $100,000 plus royalties to license its ActiveSync mobile web client idea so that Apple can advertise that the iPhone is ”compatible with corporate email systems,“ when of course it already is. She also lists Nokia, Palm, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson as ActiveSync licensees. With such a bunch of progressive thinkers lined up behind Microsoft, Apple better get in line quick!
 
The Problems with ActiveSync.
The downside to Apple paying Microsoft for an ActiveSync license for the iPhone has three significant aspects:
 
First is that Apple wants to push open standards, not pay to participate in a closed and proprietary market dominated by Microsoft. For that reason alone, it makes sense for Apple to offer open Push-IMAP service and not license ActiveSync at all.
 
That would match the logic behind Apple’s refusing to license Windows Media on the iPod, and going with the industry standard MPEG 4 AAC instead. That move killed off Microsoft’s hopes to sell WMA DRM songs and dominate the online music industry, and established M4A as the rightful heir to MP3.
 
Rather that moving away from open formats with Microsoft’s WMA, Apple moved toward them with AAC, which offers better and more open licensing terms than even MP3 did. Apple won and Microsoft lost badly because Apple broke industry tradition and did not get in line behind Microsoft’s closed, proprietary technologies.  
 
Quite obviously, Microsoft and its supporters love the idea of smart companies licensing its technologies. It makes Microsoft look like the go-to guy in the industry. Unfortunately, for them, only fools line up to partner with Microsoft and quickly part with their money.
 
Remember PlaysForSure? Every fool from MTV to WalMart to Creative lined up at the Microsoft trough, only to find themselves not only on the loser side, but quickly abandoned by Microsoft when its game plan changed.
 
Anyone advising partnering with Microsoft is either luny, or is deceptively trying to force the world back into the stone age of the 90s for their own benefit. Few have partnered with Microsoft and had things turn out well.
 
Ask IBM about OS/2. Ask SpyGlass about Internet Explorer. Ask Microsoft’s many WinCE partners, the Oragami jokers, and PlaysForSure victims. Ask HP about Media Center and everyone who jumped into the catastrophe of Windows Mobile.

Partnering with Microsoft is a huge mistake.
 
[
1990-1995: The Rise of Windows and Fall of OS/2]
[Apple in the Web Browser Wars: Netscape vs Internet Explorer]
[SafariWars V]
[The Secret Failures of Microsoft]
[Windows XP Media Center Edition vs Apple TV]
[Innovation: Apple at Macworld vs Microsoft at CES]
[The Spectacular Failure of WinCE and Windows Mobile]
[Steve Jobs and the iTunes DRM Threat to Microsoft]
 
Second is that ActiveSync is just a licensing program. Microsoft can’t offer Apple any real solution, because the iPhone runs using an ARM based OS X platform that Microsoft has never touched before.
 
So even if Apple did want to cede the push email market to Microsoft in a follow-the-leader fashion behind such brilliant tech luminaries as Palm and Motorola, Apple would still have to write its own implementation of ActiveSync for the iPhone.

 
[
Origins: Why the iPhone is ARM, and isn't Symbian]
 
Third is that Apple already has one. Why would Apple need to license the basics behind talking to Exchange’s OWA to grab email, mail, and calendar data, when it already has a working implementation on the Mac?
 
Mail, Address Book, and iCal [paired with Snerdware] already talk to Exchange Server using the same mechanism as ActiveSync devices.
 
OWA and ActiveSync are implemented using WebDAV, which is as close as Microsoft gets to open standards. When it does approach things in an open way, it often gets toasted in the open playing field. That’s why Microsoft hates things that are open, and is begrudgingly annoyed to have to accommodate the demands of an increasingly open world.
 
ActiveSync’s being based upon WebDAV means that Apple can build its own Exchange integration solution, as it already has. Will Apple port this to the iPhone? It’s not immediately clear. Apple could offer an Exchange support software pack for enterprise groups that enabled syncing over the network with Exchange, but it already provides web access to Exchange’s OWA in Safari, and can sync with Outlook via a direct desktop sync in iTunes.
 
In order to sync using an ActiveSync-type system, Apple would have to turn off desktop sync, because you can’t have two systems trying to manage the same data. Windows Mobile systems do the same thing. If you configure ActiveSync, you can’t sync mail and calendar via the desktop, or sync via open protocols such as IMAP; it quickly becomes problematic to try to move between them.

 
That leaves Apple with a choice: kowtow to proprietary Exchange push email systems in order to offer a concession to IT groups that are already arrogantly dismissive of the iPhone just because it comes from Apple, or sell the iPhone to people who actually want one.
 
[
Apple's Open Source Assault]
[Apple's Open Calendar Server vs Microsoft Exchange]
[Apple Takes On Exchange Server]
[Snerdware: Access and manage your Exchange calendar from iCal]
 
Learning from the Past.
Apple isn’t trying to force the iPhone into IT departments that are hostile to Macs and open platforms. That would be a problematic and impossible feat to accomplish. Steve Jobs already learned how difficult it is to teach a Windows Enthusiast new tricks back at NeXT.
 
Despite being far in advance of anything Microsoft offered or would offer over the next decade and a half, the Windows Enthusiasts holding the reigns of Enterprise fifteen years ago preferred to take a wait and see approach, and instead welcomed Microsoft into their business and allowed themselves to be tethered to the most insecure, problematic, and backwardly proprietary computing platform to exist since the dark days of IBM.
 
Those who embraced NeXTSTEP, from the CIA and NSA to id Software to mission critical financial markets to Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, all ended up far ahead of the game.
 
Some people never learn. Jobs did learn however, and used hindsight to determine that the Enterprise isn’t as attractive a partner as it thinks it is. Enterprise customers are commonly group thinking followers who are shepherded by fear. They will never stumble onto anything new and accept it. When they come close, they are feared away by a group thinking media propped up by the incumbent monopolist.

 
The markets that are open to new ideas are higher education, home consumers, and quick moving businesses like broadcasting, publishing, biotech and other market segments where the best tools for the job are demanded, not rejected out of superstitious fear.
 
That’s who Apple has been targeting with its products.
 
[
1990-1995: Microsoft's Yellow Road to Cairo]
[The Secrets of Pink, Taligent and Copland and OpenStep]
 
 
Shepherds of Fear.
It’s therefore no surprise that the shepherds of fear–who have nothing to say about anything new apart from advising their sheep to attend to their business and wait for Microsoft to eventually produce a conservative copy at some point in the future–are panning the iPhone to a degree that is beyond embarrassing.
 

. Watch out, it might shatter if you drop it!
. It appears to be outrageously expensive if you create a false price comparison!
. It requires officially licensed blessings from Microsoft to be ”compatible with business“!

 
What is really interesting is that Apple will sneak into Enterprise using the same tactics Microsoft used a decade and a half ago, back when IBM was the conservative dinosaur and Bill Gates was offering something new. The Windows Enthusiast fear mongers won’t see it coming, but they never see much with their unblinking eye.
 
I’ll explain how in a future article.

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