Will Microsoft give Blackberry the blues?

Users will need to choose between the promise of a wide range of applications and an established product as Microsoft launches its push e-mail service at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona last week.

Users will need to choose between the promise of a wide range of applications and an established product as Microsoft launches its push e-mail service at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona last week.

From next month, users of Vodafone's mobile network will be able to deploy Windows Mobile 5.0-powered devices with Microsoft's new push e-mail service, Direct Push, launched by the software house at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona last week.

Direct Push is pitted against Research in Motion's established Blackberry push e-mail service, which until now has had the mobile e-mail market largely to itself. An early sign of the threat from Microsoft to Blackberry's dominance came this week with the news that Newham Borough Council is poised to deploy Windows Mobile 5.0 devices.

The launch version of Direct Push will allow business users running Microsoft Exchange 2003 with Service Pack 2 to synchronise their Mobile 5.0 handheld devices directly with Outlook.

The service supports e-mail, calendar and contacts address book synchronisation using Microsoft's built-in Activesync technology.

Vodafone has said that the service will be available from March to corporate users and small and medium-sized enterprises in France, Germany and the UK. It plans to make the service available to corporate and SME customers in other countries over the course of 2006.

In his keynote speech at the 3GSM conference, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said mobile would be a major focus for the company this year.

"One of the top priorities of our salesforce around the globe will really be to drive Windows mobile penetration into the business market," he said.

Unlike RIM's Blackberry service, Vodafone's Windows mobile e-mail service will not require users to install and manage an additional server to handle mobile e-mail. However, Microsoft has recommended that users upgrade to Windows 2003 service pack 1 to cope with an increase in the number of connections the server must handle.

Alongside the push e-mail service, Microsoft used the 3GSM conference to preview Communicator Mobile, a product designed to provide users with real-time collaboration across PCs and smart mobile devices.

Communicator Mobile is one of Microsoft's steps to extending Live Communications Server. It is due to ship within two months.

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