Research In Motion has released a new version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, along with a new social-networking client that ties BlackBerry into a growing array of collaboration applications.
One group of changes simplifies the enterprise administration of BlackBerry, with a new monitoring service, Web-based management console, and over-the-air software upgrades.
A second group of changes is aimed at users, letting them edit attachments, view HTML messages, and work more closely with two collaboration systems: IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft's Live Communications Server and Office Communications Server. RIM also previewed this week at Lotusphere 2008 a BlackBerry client application that connects to IBM Lotus Connections, which is a bundle of social-networking tools aimed at enterprise users.
The changes are intended to make BlackBerry an indispensable component in connecting users with information sources and people within the enterprise, according to David Heit, director of enterprise product management for RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario. The Lotus Connections client will let users identify themselves, their interests, responsibilities and expertise; do keyword searches for similar data about other users; and launch instant-messaging chat sessions to ask questions or give answers.
The new administration features in BES Version 4.1.5 include the BlackBerry Monitoring Service, an application that monitors and troubleshoots BlackBerry devices, users, and service in more detail.. Administrators can set threshold values to monitor connections, users and servers, as well as collect and analyze more detailed statistics about users and devices, including trends. Alerts now are displayed visually and managed via a new console.
For the first time, administrators can update BlackBerry clients wirelessly with RIM software. An upgrade can be posted as an icon on the client's home screen. The update process can survive a power outage or cut-off of cellular coverage, and can roll back to the previous version automatically if the upgrade fails.
Also new is BlackBerry Web desktop, a Web GUI with which users and administrators can do a variety of management and configuration tasks, such as a activating a connected device, installing a third-party application, or enabling or disabling the features available to users.
Finally, RIM has added several security enhancements, including viewing attachments encrypted with PGP or Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions; controlling the use of GPS on the handset; and turning on and off specific Bluetooth profiles, such as allowing headsets or disallowing file transfers.
With this release, RIM now lets BlackBerry users download e-mail attachments in their original, native format (and lets administrators prohibit the downloading of such files, or limit their size). Because the DataViz Documents to Go application is integrated in this release, users can view and edit Microsoft Office Word and PowerPoint files on the handheld.
The new features in BES 4.1.5 will be phased in as part of the core platform during the first half of 2008. There is no change in Blackberry pricing and for many existing customers, the new software will be covered by existing software maintenance contracts.