New tools from Blackberry are built to balance work, life

RIM announces a new OS, phones, and features at BlackBerry World. Here are the highlights for small businesses.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is unveiling a suite of features and phones in hopes it will reenergize the company's direction. RIM has received mixed responses on its PlayBook tablet release, and has been steadily losing market share as iPhone and Android-based phones grow in popularity.

New releases from the BlackBerry World Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Monday include version 7 of the mobile operating system, and two new phones to be released this summer. There's also BlackBerry Balance, a feature intended to allow more personal use without compromising BlackBerry's trusted security features. RIM calls BlackBerry Balance a new technology, but it's actually a set of policies that IT administrators can set on BlackBerry devices to segregate company data from a user's personal data.

OS 7 will only be available for the new 9900 and 9930 handsets, also announced Monday.

If you just bought a BlackBerry and are looking to update, you're out of luck. RIM's BlackBerry OS 7 doesn't merge with QNX, the OS that runs on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. RIM has said it plans on launching a QNX platform for its smartphones in the near future.

Instead, BlackBerry OS 7 adds some improvements, like voice-activated search and a faster browser; augmented by RIM's new Just-In-Time (JIT) JavaScript compiler, which also has HTML5 support, pinch-to-zoom and enhanced Flash support; as well as updated HTML rendering. RIM also announced a new LCD interface for the phones.

At the end of the day, although the OS 7 does offer significant improvements, it shouldn't be viewed as anything but the expected updates. Yet, a feature that significantly improves the usability of Blackberries -- especially for business owners -- is BlackBerry Balance. The feature is built to open up the BlackBerry to personal use while allowing companies to protect their information. The move is meant to make Blackberries more attractive to those wanting more recreational features -- such as using games, Facebook, or Twitter -- while allowing companies to keep their data secure.

An IT administrator can set policies via BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, according to RIM's press release. These policy settings can enable the following:

• Secure access to business information while preventing the information from being copied into, sent from, or used by personal applications including Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Hotmail, Google Mail or Yahoo Mail accounts.

• Business data or files created by business applications cannot be used by personal applications.

• If a user attempts an action that is prohibited by IT policy, a notification displays on the device.

• If an employee leaves the organization, an administrator can wipe business information remotely from the device while leaving personal information intact.

• If a device is lost or stolen, an administrator can wipe all information from the device to help ensure that sensitive business data and the user's personal information don't fall into the wrong hands.

This new option will should assuage executives' fears about employees getting social with company data, while at the same time giving employees some breathing room with their Blackberries. BlackBerry Balance may be a substantial shift in the right direction for RIM, as most people don't want to carry one phone for work and another for play, and few companies want to pay for handsets.

Ilie Mitaru is a culture and business journalist and occasional entrepreneur. He is the founder of an alternative business magazine, Stake, set to launch in June.

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Ilie Mitaru

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