Microsoft launches cert program for Exchange mobile access

Microsoft will certify mobile applications using ActiveSync's enterprise management features

Microsoft has started a certification program that identifies consumer mobile handsets best supporting Microsoft Exchange's most crucial management capabilities, the company announced Wednesday.

The certification will help system administrators better manage those handsets that employees use to access to work e-mail, calendars and other information from Exchange servers.

"IT pros who are supporting Exchange for their user bases are dealing with an increasing number of consumer-purchased devices," said Ian Hameroff, Microsoft's group product manager for Exchange partner marketing. The certification will give administrators the ability to "more easily identify which mobile devices are best suited to work with Exchange and its security and management policies."

The certification will also allow end users to identify which mobile devices will be able to work most effectively with their workplace's Exchange infrastructure, Hameroff added. The certification will be represented by a new logo, which OEMs (original equipment vendors) can place on their phones.

The program has already certified a number of phones, including the iPhone (running version iOS 4.0 or later), any devices running Windows Phone 7 or Windows Mobile 6.5, and Nokia devices running Nokia Mail For Exchange (versions 3.0.5 or later).

The certification process examines which parts of the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) mobile synchronization protocol have been implemented. In many cases, handset software only uses a subset of the protocol. "Quite often there are inconsistencies in how the EAS is actually implemented on these devices. There is no hard-and-fast rules about which one of these pieces of functionality the client implements," Hameroff said.

Certain features, however, may be essential to meet organizational policy. With the certification program, and corresponding logo, administrators know which consumer devices can be easily hooked into the organizational infrastructure.

The 14 mandatory features are mostly those centered around helping organizations manage their data. They include: the ability to send and read rich formatted email; the ability to accept, decline and tentatively accept meetings; the ability to look up contacts on Exchange; the ability to remotely erase all the data on the device; the requirement of a password; a minimum password length; for the device to shut down after a predetermined period of user inactivity; and for the device to permanently lock-up after a number of attempts to log in with the incorrect password.

"Say you lose you device, or leave it in a taxi, it is very easy for the IT pro or end user to go right into Outlook and remotely wipe the device, removing any business data off of it," Hameroff said.

Applicants must license use of the EAS protocol from Microsoft, and must use EAS version 14 or later.

Testing and certification will be done through a third-party testing firm, which will follow a set of requirements developed by Microsoft engineers. Hameroff said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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