The latest version of Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Enterprise Server software will make it easier for users to connect to corporate networks and improve the security of those connections, the company has announced. With the imminent launch of BlackBerry Connect for PalmOS, the company can now sell servers to IT departments using different handheld devices.

The BlackBerry is the fastest growing segment of the PDA market, according to research firm Gartner, with corporate users flocking to it for access to corporate e-mail servers while travelling or just walking around the office. However, there is strong competition, and IT departments who want to integrate mobile devices with enterprise systems often choose Microsoft Pocket PC and Palm products because they can more easily extend beyond email (see our feature on choosing a mobile platform).

The new BlackBerry Enterprise Server Version 4.0 will allow IT departments to deploy the devices without having to synchronise them in a cradle, plus manage policies and updates over the life of the device, RIM said. Security will also get a boost with the adoption of AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). AES is a powerful 128-bit encryption technology that has been designated to replace DES encryption as a US standard, by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"This is a roll out that has been a long time in coming," said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with IDC. RIM competitor Good Technology's latest software supports AES and also allows for cradleless updates and profile management, a key feature that IT managers want in a wireless e-mail product, he said.

"If you're going to manage a large enterprise roll out, it needs to be designed for extremely efficient oversight," Slawsby said. In large, far-flung enterprises, IT departments can't afford to send a staff member around to each BlackBerry user every time a piece of software needs to be updated, he said.

RIM's improved software should help attract customers who had been considering Good’s products, Slawsby said. RIM will make the software available later this year, but no pricing has been given yet.

In the Palm of your hand
Corporate e-mail will also be available for Palm OS users when BlackBerry Connect for Palm OS arrives in the second half of this year, RIM and PalmSource said.

The two companies announced in 2003 that they would bring a version of the BlackBerry software to Palm OS users, and the two companies finalised that agreement this week. Palm OS licensees will be able to include the wireless e-mail software on PDAs later this year, and allow IT departments to provide their users with email on both Palm and BlackBerry devices.

Palm and RIM could complement each other well, since Palm OS has suffered from a reputation that the software isn't suited for enterprise use, while BlackBerry clients are seen as e-mail only devices. PalmSource also has a licensing agreement with both Good Technology to get its devices into other IT big customers. These announcements will help challenge the perception of Palm, said Slawsby. Rim and Good recently settled a legal row.

RIM has moved more aggressively in the last year to license its software to other manufacturers such as PalmOne, and Nokia as well as operating system providers, such as Microsoft and Symbian.

Over the long-term, RIM's best prospects lie with the smart-phone community as the world migrates to those devices, Slawsby said. Right now, PalmOne's Treo 600 is one of the most popular devices within that group, but Symbian and Microsoft-powered devices have the most potential, he said.

Read our review: We look at RIM’s BlackBerry 7230.