Friday, December 14, 2007

Exchange email on the iPhone?

Can you get the iPhone to work like a Blackberry? No, but you can get
pretty darn close at least for the key stuff:

1) Sync your calendars. Prior to Leopard GroupCal was a nice option
for keeping your exchange cal sync'd to iCal and then to the iPhone.
Leopard came out and the GroupCal authors seem uninterested in their
customer base. They expect an update around Q1. I hope someone finds a
solution that doesn't need GroupCal before then. In the meantime, if
you use IMAP to get Exchange mail, double click on mail invites and
add them to your iCal calendar directly. Thats close enough for me.

2) Email. Even if your company like mine has opened up IMAP, it
probably requires VPN first. Most VPN's ive seen are CISCO based
don't support the VPN the iPhone has built in (or if they do it
requires your IT shop to change CISCO VPN settings. If your
organization is of any real size, forget that.

So you have no VPN and you may or may not have IMAP enabled. Almost
all organizations have Outlook Web Access (OWA) enabled. The iPhone
understands IMAP and POP, what we need is an OWA<->IMAP translation

Enter Synchronica ( Their Mobile Gateway
product does just this and for the most part works fairly well. Go to
their web site and sign up for a 60-day free trial. I asked for
pricing after the trial and got no response. Their "resellers" in the
US make no mention of this service/capability. So I have no idea how
to pay for this for real (and given the timeouts in #2 below, i'd be
hesitant until they fixed that)

What you get:

1) Full IMAP like access to your email for reading. You can see all
your folders and all your email and get alerts as new mail comes in.
2) You can generally file, send and reply to emails although sometimes
you get timeout messages where the operation failed. The timeout
happens more on the filing/moving of emails than it does on the
sending. Be careful on the sending since more than once it sent, I got
no error message, but the recipient never received.

For me keeping up on the reading to watch for developing emergencies
(or just to keep on top of things while traveling) its valuable.

Now since I tend to talk about security, lets address that here. Their
IMAP support supports SSL, so data between your iPhone and the
Synchronica gateway is encrypted. OWA is likewise encrypted between
your company's Exchange server and the Synchronica gateway. The email
passes through their gateway and its possible for them to snoop, save,
store etc the data there (naturally they claim they don't and it would
be bad for business if they did). Thats a security risk that most IT
groups would not allow if they knew about it. So you'll have to figure
out for yourself if you tell people how you're reading Exchange email
on your iPhone.

(p.s. When you send mail via this setup it ads a little tag line that
you cant remove while in the demo stage that indicates your mail
flowed by a path like this...)

But, despite my thoughts around security, I dont have a password on my
iPhone. That means if I drop it someone else can read my mail until I
get to a browser to change my password. The iPhone password options
are very limited and have no settings like "enable password if I
havent used it in 1 hour" type controls which would be more useful.
Also as far as I know the iPhone does not encrypt any data it stores
which means a password is just a delay for real hackers.

3) Contacts. AddressX, like GroupCal broke with Leopard and they're
not updating it any time soon. I dont send new emails to many people
from the phone, mostly replies so this really isnt an issue for me.
Those I do send new emails to are in my address book in the mac and
sync to the iPhone just fine.

As to the rest of what the blackberry does, I could care less. I love
my iPhone, I just need it to be useful for both work and home rather
than carry two devices. Yes, I could have just gotten a blackberry,
but both blackberry and my company have conspired to lock me out of
many features on the device (which would be paid for out of my own
pocket) so that was not an option. If its a phone I pay for then I
decide what goes on it.

'nuf said.


Gregory said...

Great Post, thanks.

Another option for reading and writing, which again isn't exceptional because of security, is to forward your exchange email to a Gmail account dedicated specifically to your work account.

Within that Gmail account you can set up IMAP with the iPhone, and you can go and tweek the Gmail settings which gives you the option to change the address that your email sends from in addition to adding a signature if interested (so it looks like it's coming from John.Smith@CompanyXYZ instead of John.Smith@gmail).

I found this to be the fastest, and most consistent and reliable method to read and write exchange email, but, of course... there's no syncing.

Rob said...

Thanks for the comment. I didn't even know if anyone was reading my ramblings.

Anyway, the Gmail approach is one that may work for some. With my company they do not allow Exchange rules to forward email outside of the company domain.

The other issue is that most mail lists and some of our other divisions disallow emails from outside of the company domain.

Along the same lines, there are publicly available tools to download email via OWA and push it into a POP/IMAP server. That approach would work as well and presumably you could choose something more private than Google.

Nilesh said...

Hi, just wondering if you could elaborate on what other tools there are besides synchrona to download email from OWA and push it to an IMAP account? I currently leave a Mac on 24/7 anyway, so it wouldn't be a big deal for me to have a computer running for that.


Rob said...

There are a few options for reading/getting exchange mail in other ways:

1) Use FetchExc to retrieve mail from your Exchange inbox via OWA and forward it to a SMTP server or mbox type file (gmail or yahoo are natural choices). You can use any SMTP server for replies and set your email address correctly. Some IT departments know its coming from outside and will block access to mail lists or maybe even normal addresses.

2) On Linux, use Evolution and its OWA connector (yum install evolution-connector)

3) On just about any platform you can always just run Windows XP etc under a VM and run the outlook client. With things like Parallels Coherence mode its not too bad a solution