Exchange Exchange

So The Wall Street Journal ran a story today by Jessica E. Vascellaro and Nick Wingfield about the iPhone’s lack of support for proprietary Microsoft Exchange email servers.1

While iPhones can be used for email, for now, many businesses don’t plan to sync them with internal email systems that use technology from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., Microsoft Corp. and Good Technology, owned by Motorola Inc. That means many iPhone users won’t be able to directly send and receive messages through their corporate email systems, although they may be able to forward their work emails through a third-party service like AOL or Yahoo Mail.

Where by “may” they mean “will”.

(BlackBerrys, in case you weren’t aware, integrate with Exchange by requiring the use of another proprietary server from RIM that sits in front of Exchange.)

One way Apple could make it easier for corporate users would be to license software from Microsoft or Research In Motion for their devices that would allow them to act like virtual BlackBerrys or Windows Mobile devices.

This suggestion isn’t about making it easier for corporate users; this is about making it easier for corporate IT departments that have chained themselves to Exchange.

Odds of Apple doing this: nearly zero. The pressure isn’t going to be on Apple to license proprietary technology from RIM or Microsoft. The pressure is going to be on IT departments to support open standards like IMAP, which the iPhone supports. In fact, the pressure is already there:

But Mr. Saxton-Getty says he is worried that “rogue” employees may figure out ways to route their corporate emails to their iPhone. “I am getting a lot of push back, and people saying they are just going to go get it on their own,” he says, adding that an employee asks him about the iPhone and whether the company will support it about every hour.

Yes, Exchange already supports IMAP as an option, but as the Journal reports (and I love how the phrase “a business email system” implies they’re talking about anything other than Exchange, specifically):

A business email system can use a popular email standard known as IMAP to sync with an iPhone. While many large companies have the ability to activate IMAP, they have chosen not to because they are worried about exposing their mail servers to the public.

Translation: IMAP has cooties. Think about it: the difference between IMAP and Exchange isn’t that only IMAP is exposed to the public. If your Exchange server wasn’t “exposed”, how would employees receive or send email while outside the office?

Self-important IT experts will continue to insist that the iPhone “must” or “needs to” support “business software systems”, but in the meantime, their employees will be buying iPhones on their own. Make no mistake, when IT blowhards dismiss the iPhone because it doesn’t integrate with “business software systems”, what they mean is Exchange. Apple’s answer to the enterprise “problem” isn’t to kowtow to the Microsoft Exchange hegemony; it’s to point in the opposite direction, and show how much better things can be with open industry protocols like IMAP and CalDAV and with simple web-based solutions.

Like many successful revolutions, this one might come from the bottom.

  1. This story will likely disappear behind the Journal’s subscribers-only pay wall after today. ↩︎