Microsoft and Blackberry: what if…?

By in banking, general, mobile, products, strategy, virtualisation on Monday, 4 July 2011

Email. Its been around for over 40 years. And up there as our No 1 business tool.
But things could be about to get very interesting in Inbox world.

Blackberry - past its sell by date? Will Microsoft be the new recipient?

As they say on Wall Street, what follows are some forward-looking statements. Therefore take this as my personal view, as the outcome is far from certain.

Three events have got me thinking about what might happen. Let’s set the scene.
And taking the stage are RIM, Microsoft, VMWare, Zimbra and SalesForce…

Poor old RIM – Blackberry is not so fresh today

Research in Motion, RIM, or as most people know it, Blackberry, is a little bruised.
Project over-run, late-to-market products and disappointing media reviews are creating an unhappy climate in the Canadian-based company.

Internally, there are rumbling and discontented staff. And its not hard to see why. RIM’s seen its market share slide after Apple released its truly beautiful iPhone – then lost even more when Google presented us with Android.

RIM, once the symbol of corporate cool started to look staid and unimaginative. Email is as good as ever – attachments accepted – but browsing and user-app functionality is falling way behind.

Poor market perception, questions about data security and deals with dodgy governments to let them monitor email traffic has pushed its stock value down. But where does Microsoft fit in all this, you may ask…

Microsoft Exchange and Blackberry Enterprise Server

RIM needs Microsoft Exchange to function. When first delivered, it was inspired. Leveraging corporate dependence on Microsoft’s flagship email server product, Blackberry was able to deliver a truly innovative mobile solution.

What was really cool about Blackberry was that BES pushed email to the phone. Your phone received emails automatically the instant they were sent, something no other product could do at the time.

Later, Good Technology would offer this too, but early devices were unreliable, unlike the virtually bulletproof Blackberry.

Microsoft had nothing like it. Its mobile email product was pale in comparison. Significantly, Microsoft never caught up, nor felt it needed to. RIM’s dependence on Exchange appeared to assure Microsoft’s email dominance.

That is, until iPhone and Android went corporate…

Blackberry – not the only fruit – nor the tastiest

Now iPhone and Android are able to offer push email without needing Exchange. Worse – Google is doing the pushing. Exchange has begun losing out to GMail.

Microsoft is losing desktop dominance and servers are moving to The Cloud. Corporate email isn’t the cash cow it was. Per-user Exchange costs in the Cloud have fallen from over $100 to under $15. Microsoft is hurting.

But an old rival has been quietly repositioning itself. Unlike RIM its Open Source. And that rival is VMWare.

Zimbra finds a new, powerful owner

Microsoft then made a big mistake. When Yahoo signed its deal with Microsoft, Yahoo owned an open source Cloud-based email server product called Zimbra. Zimbra competed with Exchange. Unsurprisingly, Zimbra went up for sale.

VMware have been taking virtual platform delivery share away from Microsoft. That was Microsoft’s last hope to save its desktop revenue.

Now, when Yahoo put Zimbra on the market, VMWare saw a golden opportunity. VMWare bought Zimbra. Microsoft’s worst nightmare was about to begin.

VMWare announces Zimbra for Android

In a move that may turn out to be as significant as RIM’s BES for Exchange, VMWare is previewing a new Zimbra client for any Android smartphone or tablet. Could we soon have a viable Blackberry alternative for Smartphone email?

Just think about that for a moment. Before I talk about SalesForce…

SalesForce and the missing link

SalesForce now dominates the Cloud business intelligence and CRM space. Crucially, its very weak in one key area. Email integration. Its pretty dire.

There’s Connect for Outlook and it talks to GMail after a fashion. But its not great. Zimbra has offered a connector for some years, but it was flaky and limited.

What if VMWare decides to put its enterprise-grade shoulders behind Zimbra. Could SalesForce integration push Zimbra centre of the corporate stage?

Blackberry and Microsoft – is it all over?

The final “what if”

This piece has lots of sweeping statements – and quite a few assumptions, too. But I’ve saved the best “what if” until last…

What if Microsoft feels so threatened it decides to buy Blackberry?

If it does, it won’t be for RIM’s failing products. Microsoft has a deal with Nokia. Microsoft would want to take RIM’s technology and corporate presence.

If it does, Microsoft may have a lifeline. And Blackberry will be gone for ever.

But as I said at the start. What if…

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