Hot skills: Blackberry

What is it?

The Blackberry has played a regular supporting role in the UK and US governments' attempts to deal with the credit crunch. Alastair Darling...

What is it?

The Blackberry has played a regular supporting role in the UK and US governments' attempts to deal with the credit crunch. Alastair Darling used his to track coverage by the BBC's Robert Peston while attending meetings. US representatives were told to check theirs into a bin, to ensure that details of what they were discussing would not leak out to Wall Street.

It may be the political and financial elites' mobile e-mail and news tool of choice, but it's been a bumpy couple of months for Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM). Orange halted shipments of the Blackberry Bold in the UK because of software glitches, and RIM's share price has been slipping despite rising profits, leading at least one analyst to finger the company as a takeover target for Microsoft, which partners with RIM to provide Windows Live applications on the Blackberry, but offers its own e-mail push technology.

However, the number of Blackberry users has been growing rapidly, with 2.6 million new subscribers added in the quarter to August, bringing the total to 19 million. Along with its e-mail function, the Blackberry can provide access to databases and customer relationship management systems. RIM also licenses its Blackberry e-mail client to mobile phone manufacturers including Nokia and Motorola. Some newer Blackberry models can use Wi-Fi as well as mobile phone networks.

Where did it originate?

RIM was founded in Canada in the 1980s. In 1998, it launched a two-way pager. The Blackberry followed in 1999, initially targeting Microsoft Exchange users.

What's it for?

Blackberry offers opportunities to both administrators and developers. The Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) middleware, which connects and synchronises data and e-mail between enterprise systems and roaming users, is available in dedicated versions for Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange and Office Communications Server, and Novell Groupwise. It can also be run standalone, or supplied as a third party service. There are solutions for small companies (Blackberry Professional Software) and families or workgroups (Blackberry Unite).

Application development uses the Blackberry Java Development Environment (Blackberry JDE), and desktop simulators for Blackberry devices. The Blackberry Mobile Data System (MDS) is an application development framework for mobile applications that run on the BES. Although the development environment is free to download, you have to register your application with RIM. The Blackberry website lists over 340 applications, with ISVs including Oracle and IBM (for Web 2.0 Lotus collaboration applications).

What makes it special?

The Blackberry uses push technology, so that all new messages, calendar and customer contact detail changes are sent to the device, instead of leaving the user to update them manually.

How difficult is it to master?

One-day administrators courses are held around twice a month, in Egham, and cost £529. Developers can make use of existing Java or .net skills using the Blackberry Java Development Environment or Blackberry Plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio.

Where is it used?

Around the world, over 325 telecoms networks support Blackberry. The main market is North America, but most growth is coming from Europe and Asia.

What's coming up?

The touch-screen Blackberry Storm, due before the end of this year (and exclusive to Vodafone in Europe) is seen as a competitor to Apple's iPhone.

Rates of pay

Exchange/Blackberry administrators earn between £28,000 and £45,000. Blackberry Java developers' salaries start at £30,000.


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