You may not like it, but Microsoft technology IS some of the best going

I recently happened upon a Computerworld blog article asking “Is Apple morphing into the Microsoft of smartphones?“, highlighting their use with the iPhone of the same sort of anti-competitive practices that Microsoft got in so much trouble for in the past with some of their products. The article immediately attracted the ire of a legion of Apple apologists in the comments, but it was one of the least inflammatory parts of the article that struck a chord with me:

“The irony of it all hit me yesterday as I was deciding how to move music from my PC to my Pre, given that iTunes syncing has been turned off. And my first stop was Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, which does indeed sync natively with Palm’s Pre.

That’s right. I was turning to Microsoft to solve a problem with a proprietary, closed data exchange format.”

I found this interesting because I recently encountered something similar myself. After finishing the deployment of my new Exchange 2010 server at work, I invited the Deputy Head to test the Exchange ActiveSync synchronisation with his iPhone. “I’ve tried,” came the response, “but as I already have an account running through Exchange it won’t let me add another.”

I expressed surprise that he was already using an Exchange account, and was duly informed in return that the iPhone synchronisation with GMail uses Exchange ActiveSync to communicate – and therein lies the delicious irony. We have two products, the Apple iPhone and Google’s GMail, both from companies considered arch-nemeses of Microsoft, and yet the best (and supported) method for getting them to talk to each other is via a Microsoft protocol. This differs from the Computerworld example in one significant way: Exchange ActiveSync is itself a proprietary data exchange format – both Apple and Google have licensed the technology for their products. Would they have done so if an equally capable open standard was available? Probably not. It could be argued this is simply a case of customer demand driving an otherwise uncomfortable decision by Apple and Google, but I doubt so many customers would demand that support if it wasn’t the best thing going.

Like it or not, Microsoft put out some very good technology, just as Apple and Google do. Microsoft may be regarded by many as a popular hate figure, but sooner or later those espousing such opinions will have to realise that Microsoft products are easily a match for their competition, and the Apple’s business practices in particular have a lot in common with Microsoft’s. The only real difference is that Apple have far superior marketing; or as it’s called in politics: spin.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

7 responses to “You may not like it, but Microsoft technology IS some of the best going”

  1. Dale says :

    “Exchange ActiveSync is itself a proprietary data exchange format – both Apple and Google have licensed the technology for their products.”

    I’m told that if an Andriod phone has a “Powered by Google” label, then it won’t have Exchange Activesync. Shameless plug:
    http://blog.wisefaq.com/2009/12/09/android-and-microsoft-exchange/

  2. Kyle says :

    Actually.. ActiveSync cripples some functionality of the iPhone Contacts Manager.. for instance, if you mark a phone number as ‘other’ it will live either on the phone or in my case, gmail – but it wont sync them.

    It seems at best a very very bad bodge and i’m hoping for proper GMail support in the next iPhone OS release..

    • AngryTechnician says :

      While the protocol is licensed from Microsoft, the ActiveSync implementation on the iPhone is entirely Apple’s – they wrote the code, so it’s Apple that’s at fault here, not the Microsoft technology that they’ve messed up.

      It’s not the only bug that the iPhone ActiveSync code has.

  3. Niall says :

    Did you sort the deputy in the end? I have an iPhone and when you set up mail the wizard asks you what email server you are using Gmail/Yahoo/Exchange/other. I very much doubt the deputy head chose Exchange to set up a Gmail account. The Gmail option uses IMAP. So it should be possible to have Gmail and Exchange running at the same time.

    BTW the Calendar sucks on the iPhone mainly due to the quiet (in)audible alert. Currently using mobileme to sync my outlook to my iPhone as we don’t have exchange at my school.