Will my company support corporate email on the iPhone?
March 7, 2008 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out if my IT department will support corporate email on the iPhone.

I asked IT already, but I don't understand their response. This is likely my fault for asking an ill-formed question. Can someone translate this for me? Here is the exchange:

Q: "...do we support Exchange Activesync for mobile email on non-Blackberry devices (like the Samsung Blackjack)? I ask because Apple announced yesterday that the iPhone will be supporting Activesync in June and I’m wondering if CompanyX employees will have their iPhones supported."

A: "We do not support the IMAP mail protocol at CompanyX, so ActiveSync will not work. Currently, our infrastructure only supports Blackberry Enterprise Server or Good Mobile Messaging for mobile devices."

My understanding of this stuff is pretty much limited to this slide shown during the Apple press conference yesterday. That slide gave me some hope that the iPhone would plug right into our infrastructure the way Windows Mobile devices do.

The part that really confuses me is the reference to IMAP--do we need an IMAP server to run Activesync? This blog post, for example, makes me think that is not the case.

I'm not trying to fight IT over this issue, I'm just trying to understand their explanation.
posted by mullacc to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
I'm under the impression that IMAP for Exchange is the only currently way (that's works reliably) to get Exchange email on an iPhone. When ActiveSync is released on iPhone, which means that if your company supports (and provides certificates for) Windows Mobile (or appropriately-configured Nokia) devices, the iPhone should work just like any other ActiveSync device.

But if your company doesn't support ActiveSync and only gives you access to Blackberry Enterprise Server or Good Mobile Messaging, the iPhone won't sync over-the-air.
posted by madh at 1:07 PM on March 7, 2008

Best answer: I don't agree with their association of ActiveSync and IMAP. I have used ActiveSync on a couple of stock Exchange boxes without any issues except for missing security certificates. If you have access to Exchange webmail I'd give good odds that ActiveSync "just works".

I suggest finding a friend with an activesync phone or pda and trying it.
posted by GuyZero at 1:39 PM on March 7, 2008

Best answer: Their answer "We do not support IMAP, therefore ActiveSync will not work" doesn't make sense. They're two distinctly different transport methods in Exchange. IMAP is an open standard, configurable for Exchange and the iPhone. However, IT guys don't like exposing IMAP for some reason... I'm our IT guy and I enabled IMAP for my iPhone :). Exchange ActiveSync is a proprietary transport method that ActiveSync technology to sync your mailbox components over-the-air.

It's true, though, that if they only provide Blackberry Enterprise Server, ActiveSync for Exchange definitely won't work. I don't understand why they wouldn't set up ActiveSync if they have an SSL-secured connection for Outlook WebAccess, since you can use the same certificate to secure ActiveSync.
posted by colemanm at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2008

Best answer: The BlackJack is Windows CE / Mobile / Smartphone-based. Does your company run Microsoft Exchange (with Outlook being the standard email client)? If so, do you know which version?

Microsoft is a direct competitor with RIM and Good and is attempting another embrace-and-extend with Windows Mobile and Microsoft Exchange, offering wireless email synchronization as a basic feature with Exchange 2003 and 2007.

Unfortunately, ActiveSync in my experience blows and is nowhere near as reliable as BlackBerry BES or BIS. GoodLink is pretty decent too.

Maybe it's just that most Windows Mobile devices in my experience are unreliable, locking up or failing to sync for no particular reason and then giving up permanently until given loving attention, or a little of both. I have admittedly not dealt much with WM6.

And, Exchange 2007 does not seem to work well if at all (especially when requiring HTTPS) with a variety of older Windows Mobile 2003/WM5/SmartPhone or earlier devices. I had this problem with a Q and I would imagine it may be an issue with the BlackJack unless an OS upgrade is offered by the cell carrier (or shoehorned in with some effort, possibly).

Back to the iPhone(!): they should be enable to enable POP or IMAP if they want to go through the hassle of supporting you;) This requires some security changes at the firewall and is another avenue of possible attack, so they'd probably prefer to stick with ports 80/443.
posted by lordaych at 1:58 PM on March 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, you guys have confirmed my suspicion.

I don't have an iPhone now, but if my company supports it with Activesync I'll think about getting one. Our IT department has been good to me so far, so I won't hector them about this now. Hopefully a higher-up will buy an iPhone and convince them to support it come June.
posted by mullacc at 2:19 PM on March 7, 2008

Let me second one thing that lordaych said: regardless of whether it works or not, ActiveSync stinks at the best of times. You often have to manually sync several times in a row to get all your emails downloaded.
posted by GuyZero at 2:20 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll disagree with all the hatred towards Activesync. I've had no problems with it, but I will say that the email experience in Windows Mobile 6 is a lot better with push email than Windows Mobile 5 was.

My company "does not support" Activesync OTA, but they don't block it either, so I'm a happy worker. I say try it and see, once the new firmware is released.
posted by jasonweaver at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2008

Best answer: mullacc, yeah, to agree with all the previous answers: their email to you was totally accurate 48 hours ago, but fails to address the newly licensed Exchange/ActiveSync connection option.

On the topic of ActiveSync, and not trying to start a Jets-Sharks turf war here, but I wanted to put in a vote for a reliable OTA ActiveSync -> WM6 PocketPC implementation. My phone will often get my new email 2-3 seconds before my desktop PC gets things and I haven't had to manually sync in months.

I completely agree with lordaych that ActiveSync on Windows Mobile is only as good as Windows Mobile. Users who treat their phones like playgrounds, testing any half-baked, memory leaking, Registry clogging app on them that they jolly well please will have negative experiences with ActiveSync.

I'll readily admit that of the 40 phones that sync with my Exchange server, the ones that do it most reliably are the phones owned by the other IT guys because our phones are pristine. Not to say we don't install apps; we're just ruthless about not compromising performance.
posted by mysterious1der at 2:37 PM on March 7, 2008

I'm flattered to have gotten credit on this one, especially since I inadvertently left out an entire paragraph in my post where I explained that ActiveSync runs over completely different ports vs. IMAP, or POP/SMTP. Basically if Outlook Web Access is available and Exchange 2003 SP2 or 2007 is running the show, there's no technical reason that ActiveSync shouldn't work.

However, admins can easily set up security policies to enable/disable/control this and can disallow individual users from using ActiveSync entirely. I don't do enough Exchange admin work myself to know whether they can specifically block your device simply for being an iPhone based on a user agent string or other identifier; if so, it will probably be easy to forge this within a few days after ActiveSync for iPhone is released.

IS departments like to say "no," reflexively, as a survival mechanism in some cases, especially when there's any implication they will may have to support a device that is otherwise obscure to them during the regular course of a day. Personally, I like dealing with a funky variety of devices, assuming the users have a healthy, patient attitude when it comes to getting help.

I'm glad to hear that Windows Mobile 6 is more reliable. I'd like to be able to own a device for which I can develop custom software without having to purchase the murderously expensive BlackBerry SDKs.
posted by lordaych at 3:03 PM on March 7, 2008

I've been running Activesync for my Q for over a year and it's been just fine, no issues whatsoever.I've set up Activesync very successfully at about 25 sites, including environments where other IT providers have completely and utterly failed to configure it properly before I got there. It's not the nightmare experience it was when I first approached it, I'll say that.

I've set up iphones with IMAP, no issues whatsoever.

Just adding some more data to the stack.
posted by disclaimer at 3:53 PM on March 7, 2008

"We do not support the IMAP mail protocol at CompanyX, so ActiveSync will not work.

I imagine the person who wrote this probably just skimmed your email and saw "iphone" and assumed you wanted IMAP. They probably also used the term "ActiveSync" to mean push-email like the way we use Xerox to mean 'copy.' So yeah, once the iphone supports the MS Activesync then it should just work.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:53 PM on March 7, 2008

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