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Mobile devices are becoming less expensive and more powerful. Furthermore, Microsoft is making major improvements to Exchange Server's support for mobile devices in Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2. These developments mean that many companies that have traditionally stayed away from mobile messaging may soon decide to give it a try.
Experimenting with mobile messaging presents some unique challenges. Think back to the first time you evaluated Exchange Server. You might have downloaded an evaluation copy and loaded it onto an old PC running Windows Server. Had you decided that you didn't really care for Exchange, the experiment didn't really cost the company anything aside from the time spent evaluating it.
Mobile messaging is different though. To really evaluate it, you have to buy mobile devices. I say "devices" rather than "device," because you will likely need to try out a few types to figure out what works best for your organization's needs. At several hundred bucks a pop, the cost of these trial devices can quickly mount up.
If, after investing in the trial devices, you decided that those particular products –-- or mobile messaging in general -- aren't right for your company, you've not only wasted money on the devices, you may also be locked into a service agreement with the company that supplies Internet access or cellular service for them.
There is, however, a way you can perform a pre-evaluation before you invest big bucks on a full scale mobile messaging evaluation. Rather than running out and buying mobile devices and signing up for a service plan, you can use emulators to try the devices out for free. If your experience with the emulators indicates that a particular mobile device will work well for your organization, then you can go ahead and buy an actual device.
I know there aren't emulators for every mobile device out there. However, Microsoft has created emulators for SmartPhone and the Pocket PC. These emulators were originally intended for use by programmers who develop software that runs on the Pocket PC or Microsoft's SmartPhone. But, if you're considering either of these devices, it may be worthwhile to download these emulators. I recommend giving some of your power users access to the emulators to see which device they like better.
The SmartPhone is primarily a cell phone, but has the capability of sending and receiving e-mail. Its primary limitations are that the phone buttons must be used in place of a keyboard and that the screen displays a limited amount of text.
The Pocket PC is primarily a PDA type device, although there is a Pocket PC with an integrated cell phone. I personally use a Pocket PC with integrated cell phone and could not be happier with it.
Either device can interface with Exchange Server. The SmartPhone can access Exchange through Outlook Mobile Access (OMA). The Pocket PC can access Exchange Server using a pocket version of Outlook, OMA, or Outlook Web Access.
Unfortunately, deploying the emulators is not as simple as downloading and installing them. There are a lot of prerequisites. Luckily, you can download everything you need free from Microsoft.
The Windows Mobile 2003-Based Pocket PC emulator for example, requires Embedded Visual C++ 4.0, Embedded Visual C++ 4.0 Service Pack 3, and the Pocket PC 2003 Software Development Kit (in that order). You can download the emulator and its required components here.
The Microsoft SmartPhone emulator is included in the SmartPhone Software Development Kit. This SDK requires a copy of ActiveSync, Embedded Visual C++ 4.0, and Embedded Visual C++ Service Pack 3. This page provides the links to download the SDK and its prerequisite components.
In addition, you will need a copy of Visual Studio .NET 2003. Visual Studio is a commercial application, but if you happen to have an MSDN subscription, then you already have a copy of Visual Studio.
It can be a lot of work to get the emulators installed, but I believe it is worth the effort. I used both of these emulators while trying to figure out which mobile messaging device type I wanted to use in my own organization. The emulators look just like the devices they are emulating, as you can see from the screenshots below, and they behave exactly like the real thing (aside from not being able to make phone calls). Not only can you configure the emulators to act as Exchange clients, you can use them to test any other mobile applications that you are considering deploying.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.
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This was first published in September 2005