The word on the street is that Microsoft will leak a rather low-key public beta test of its “Magneto” wireless e-mail product at CTIA next week—or maybe not until June.
Im trying very hard to make sense of Microsofts failure to release it at Cannes 3GSM last month.
Here are the excuses people have given so far:
1) Its not ready.
Yeah, right, thats really going to bother Microsoft.
2) It includes such good wireless e-mail that it will kill RIM.
This is superficially silly. I mean, Microsoft is competing with RIM, so why would it weep if RIM died … and anyway, why would it kill RIM? Fantasy!
But then, a few thoughts came trotting by. First, Microsoft is still in the final stages of negotiating an anticompetitive solution with the European community. Trampling a small competitor into the dust should really, if one is being tactful, wait till the officials are out of the door first.
Rumors of a wait till September for final rollout wouldnt conflict with such a problem. So were left asking, “Would it really kill RIM?”
That should be an easy question to answer. All we need to know is “What is Magneto, anyway?” and unfortunately we dont.
And thats where it gets interesting. Why dont we? Normally, by the time Microsoft has gotten a beta test program to the point of expected release, its not a secret. But this one is —apparently a deadly one!
Have a quick look at this forum on the NeoWin Web site and tell me if youve ever seen anything like it. “Microsoft have [sic] asked us to remove the story and screenshots,” it says. “If you have come to this news story to find more about Magneto then we apologise. Look forward to Windows Mobile Code-name Magneto RTM later in the year.”
As I reported in my pre-Cannes story about Magneto, this is not only very, very unusual for Microsoft, but its also completely stupid. By the time they got the muffler on NeoWin, it was too late. The news was echoing around the Web. But clearly, someone inside Microsoft felt that it was really, really important that it be suppressed … why?
We do know that Microsoft has licensed ActiveSync to other phone makers. Nothing helpful. The rivals are on their own developing software to use it, but at least its a done deal; they can. So that makes it easier for Symbian phone users to retrieve e-mail through their PCs. But heck, thats not going to kill RIM! So one theory or the other is wrong. Or, perhaps, both.
What else do we know about Magneto? It has the effect of unifying the Windows Mobile code base. Pocket PC and Windows Smartphone become much closer. Nothing to bother RIM there. What else?
Well, something to do with Exchange, we know.
Most corporate e-mail is either “Notice Loads” or “ChangeX” (remarked the bastard operator from hell once). RIM, naturally, was doing very well selling its e-mail server to corporate IT departments, which (say conspiracy theorists) couldnt have made Redmond happy. Lotus doesnt seem to realize there is a mobile market, so no point in discussing that here … what, exactly, is it about Magneto and Exchange?
Lets ask it another way: What is it that blue-chip IT managers like about RIM for e-mail?
Easy, its secure push technology. To use Microsoft Exchange over a smartphone, however, you have to dial in and collect it. Or, if you trust Short Message System (SMS) texting, you could have a pseudo-push responding to an SMS alert. No, its not secure. And the alternative—an always-on VPN to the exchange server—is technically challenging to most wireless carriers, not to mention unreliable and expensive.
So heres what I think. Microsoft may well be saying that its about to steal RIMs lunch. In one sense it already has because RIM is now giving away its mail server technology. But I think the real problem facing Magneto could be simpler: standards.
In a few months, the Open Mobile Alliance will announce its mail standard. In the beginning, Magneto wasnt planning to be OMA-compliant. We still dont know what the final OMA mail configuration will be. Its a guess: Neither does Microsoft.
So heres the simple, no-conspiracy answer. (Of course, that means its wrong … but heck, all predictions are wrong!) It goes like this:
Microsoft is hanging onto Magneto—not because its being nice to RIM or because it is being devious—it is rewriting Magneto to be OMA-compliant.
Nobody is going to believe that, though.
Read Guy Kewneys other recent columns about trends in mobile and wireless technology.
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