You might well be thinking, why would I want an alternative? It does the job doesn't it? Well, yes it does and it has the lion's share of the market. Even though, as the old saying might be updated, no one ever got sacked for buying Blackberry, it is at least worth considering whether there are any alternatives - especially for smaller businesses. One very important consideration is that get the full Blackberry experience you need both an MS Exchange and a Blackberry Enterprise Server. While any small business will benefit from having an Exchange server, especially when wrapped up in MS Small Business Server, adding a second server just for Blackberry synchronisation is a significant expense. This expense becomes even clearer when the costs of ongoing support and maintenance of the second server are factored in to the Blackberry running costs. A second, perhaps less important but nonetheless significant, drawback of the Blackberry is the mobile phone like interface. MS Outlook is just much nicer and easier to use - as is its mobile version.


These drawbacks have not significantly hampered take up of Blackberry primarily because the alternatives available are not well known. OK, so what are these alternatives? Leaving aside basic offerings such as POP or web-based mail access on a mobile phone there really is only one serious contender for the Blackberry crown and that is Windows Mobile 5.0 (WM5). At this stage in its development (Windows Mobile 6.0 is on the way) WM5 seems to be most suited to smaller businesses and for that reason this article is addressed primarily to owners of small businesses.


Ironically, while mobile email is now pretty much ubiquitous in the corporate world it is in the SME sector, where it has the weakest toe-hold, that it brings real competitive advantage. Small business people are precisely the people that genuinely do need to be several places at once or least give a very successful impression of being so. In the corporate world there are innumerable means of keeping in touch and plenty of people to whom those (really not so vital) tasks can be delegated. In the small business world we have mobile phones, virtual assistants and answering services and, now, mobile email. Mobile email allows you to steal a significant march on your competitors. By always answering your mail you seem always to be at your desk and your company thereby gives an impression of being larger than it might really be.


Windows Mobile 5.0 handsets are available from all the UK mobile operators apart from '3' - usually as a free upgrade. With WM5 you get full over-the-air instant and continuous synchronisation of your sent and received email, contacts, calendar and task list. And you get all this in the familiar Outlook interface. A one person operation can rent a mail box from a network operator and synchronise with this. For slightly larger operations a Small Business Server allows for far greater flexibility in terms of not only synchronising but sharing data with other members of staff or external services such as virtual PAs. Unlike Blackberry only one server is required.


It is worth making a direct comparison with Blackberry (assuming the full mobile experience on both platforms). Blackberry has better battery life (72 hrs or more against 24 -36 on WM5). Blackberry has universal global coverage WM5 is occasionally unable to get a data signal overseas. WM5 handsets require the occasional reboot: Blackberries rarely do. WM5 has a far more user friendly interface. Roaming costs are built into the Blackberry data tariff but are variable on WM5. Real running costs, taking server installation, configuration and maintenance into account are much lower for WM5.


WM5 is the ideal choice for business with up to about 20 mobile staff where overseas roaming is not a hugely significant consideration. Above that number Blackberry edges into the lead and takes a commanding lead as you move up the business scale.

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