GoodLink Challenges the RIM BlackBerry

 
 
By Richard V. Dragan  |  Posted 2003-03-11
 
 
 

When we first reviewed Good Technologys end-to-end wireless messaging solution (June 11, 2002), the company earned points for its innovative "no-cradle" approach to synchronizing e-mail, contact, and appointment information. The latest release of this package comes with the proprietary Good G100 device instead of relying on Research In Motions hardware.

An end-to-end solution, the GoodLink service connects your companys Microsoft Exchange server to the wireless handhelds via the Cingular Wireless Mobitex service, so your employees can stay in touch no matter where they roam. We tested a new version of the server product, GoodLink Server ($2,000, plus $50 per user) on both Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2000.

As in the previous version, setup is easy enough with the included installation utility. The GoodLink server sits behind your companys firewall and sends all messages securely with Triple DES encryption. The GoodLink administration console (a Microsoft Management Console snap-in) makes rolling out hundreds—or thousands—of mobile devices painless.

In several dozen runs for a half-dozen test users, downloading software onto G100 devices consistently took less than 2 minutes through the provided USB 1.1 cable. Devices can now be erased remotely should one get lost or stolen.

GoodLinkOnce an organization is up and running with GoodLink, this administrative console lets you view usage statistics for Exchange traffic and the like. We missed the ability to start and stop the local GoodLink server from within this console. But the utility is more than adequate to get devices and users connected to the GoodLink solution with a minimum of IT effort.

GoodLink still runs on the two PDA devices (the RIM 950 and 957) offered in 2002. But the company now markets its own custom-designed device, the G100. It measures 2.8 by 3.0 by 0.6 inches (sized between the RIM 950 and the RIM 957) and weighs less than 4 ounces. The G100 is powered by a 90-MHz ARM-7 CPU with 16MB of RAM and 8MB of flash memory. We loaded the device with a very full corporate e-mail account that contained many attachments and never ran out of room. Battery life was impressive, delivering a weeks worth of juice on a single charge.

You dont use a stylus to tap the screen, which has 16 levels of gray, plus backlighting, on the G100. Rather, a clever scrollbar located in the middle of the keyboard lets you move up and down, left and right, and make selections while viewing e-mail, contacts, and appointments.

The G100 comes loaded with GoodLinks e-mail and scheduling client and has several ease-of-use improvements. Icons for your e-mail, contacts, and current schedule run down the left side of the screen. The main panel lists your outstanding appointments and number of messages in your inbox, plus connection information.

When you view and edit e-mail, the interface is a joy to use. You can get to folders easily by navigating with the scroller, then drill down to view messages. A button to the right of this control affords quick access to common context-sensitive options. Theres an auto-complete feature for e-mail addresses, and the raised buttons on the G100s backlit thumb-style keyboard make typing messages easier than on other PDAs.

New support for viewing Excel spreadsheets is a welcome addition. You can also view Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat PDFs, though support for viewing graphics within these document types is missing. Besides Exchange information, the company offers a message-based GoodInfo server component, which lets users obtain information (stock quotes or customer order information, for example) using a query-and-response protocol. Though this might be acceptable for intermittently connected devices, a real Web browser would be a welcome addition. Nationwide wireless coverage for the G100 is provided by Cingular (monthly plans start at $34.99 per user). A Quick Settings option lets you turn off audible notifications (otherwise your device will chirp as you go in and out of coverage).

The biggest win for GoodLink users remains the companys no-cradle approach to synchronizing content between a desktop Exchange/Outlook account and a mobile device. Surely this is a gold standard of usability, indispensable to anyone whos struggled to sync up data between different systems.

All in all, the GoodLink service is on a par with the enterprise offerings from RIM in terms of features, pricing, and coverage. If your organization wants voice service in addition to text messaging, then the RIM is the better choice. But the new usability features of the G100 device help give a distinctive edge to Goods offering. For enterprises that need to equip a mobile workforce, GoodLink is worth investigating.

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