Rivals Unite: Microsoft Offers Free BlackBerry Sync

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Microsoft will no longer charge Exchange Online customers extra to sync email, calendars, and contacts with BlackBerry devices.

The move makes Exchange Online more competitive with Google’s hosted Gmail for businesses. But it also helps the BlackBerry, which competes against Microsoft’s own mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 7.

That’s not surprising: Microsoft earns a lot more money selling business software (and services) than it does selling mobile devices.

It has been willing to sell out its mobile platform for its enterprise business in the past — in particular, Microsoft licensed a protocol called ActiveSync to competitors like Apple and Google, which allows their phones to sync data with Exchange exactly as well as Windows phones do.

The BlackBerry is one of the few mobile platforms that doesn’t use ActiveSync. Users can send and receive email from Exchange on their BlackBerries without any extra assistance. But the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is required for full sync of data like contacts and calendars. It’s also necessary for IT departments to manage devices — for instance, to wipe data from them in case they’re stolen.

Google has offered free sync between hosted Gmail BlackBerry Enterprise Server since 2009, but Microsoft charged Exchange Online customers an extra $10 per user per month.

Now that barrier is gone.

Exchange Online still costs more than Google Apps — $60 per user per year versus $50 for the Google offering — but Microsoft argues that it offers more features. Microsoft also has a large enterprise sales force, which helps it sell Exchange Online alongside software licenses for Office and other products.

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