With mobile messaging now an essential tool for business, it is a good thing that there are two mobile e-mail products well suited to the job. Last month we reviewed the BlackBerry Enterprise Server from Research In Motion (RIM); this week it is the turn of Good Technology’s GoodLink.

Both RIM and Good deliver new e-mail, as well as calendars and contacts, to handhelds using common wireless networks. The GoodLink Server works with existing Microsoft Exchange servers, linking to the handheld over the wireless carrier, and also connecting to Good subscription services, turning a complex procedure into something much simpler to roll out and manage,

Good's technology does exactly what it claims, and does it efficiently with a minimum of administrative or user overhead.

The main difference between Good and RIM has been RIM's use of its own BlackBerry clients, and Good's linking to a range of third party devices such as the Handspring Treo 600 (reviewed here). This is now changing with RIM software moving onto a variety of clients.

I have tested the full GoodLink and BlackBerry solutions in the lab and in the field, and present a review of GoodLink here. Good Technology sent a Treo 600 PDA provisioned to connect to an Exchange server at Good’s site. For this hosted implementation, I worked with the complete set of GoodLink Server documentation, which covers the product’s processes in substantial detail.

Much of the product's features are provided byvendor-hosted operations centres which manage the communication, offering services such as device presence, front-line security, push events, and sync queuing.

With authentication tied to the device, whoever carries it has authentication, making PDAs popular targets for thieves. GoodLink Server sets security policies for the GoodLink client software, requiring the use of passwords and defining the frequency with which they must be renewed.

If a device goes missing, an admin can send a command that erases all the data in the messaging client. This is less effective than a single-vendor RIM solution, where the BlackBerry server can completely shut down the BlackBerry clients. Disabling the client does not affect the device’s ability to operate as a phone or to examine content that has been copied out of GoodLink. This drawback would also apply to third party devices that RIM is targetting such as the recently-launched Siemens SK65 phone.

Similarly, the installation process for GoodLink Server working with Treos is more onerous than that for a BlackBerry server working with BlackBerrys, requiring several manual steps and the navigation of strict rules about which software may run on which servers. GoodLink took a few more steps to provision each device than RIM, but the process was similar, docking the device at either the user’s desk or a dedicated shared management station, and registering the device and authorising it.

GoodLink supports synchronisation of Outlook e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes between wireless handhelds and Exchange, so that - for example - items deleted on the Treo are deleted on the server and vice versa.

GoodLink offers a means to exchange non-email data between clients and servers, called GoodLink Forms. GoodLink Forms integrates with the GoodLink client’s asynchronous delivery mechanism: A submitted form is delivered when the user is in range, and the server’s response is queued and sent as any other message. It is easy to use and highly functional, but its scope is far more limited than the comparable feature in BlackBerry Enterprise Server, MDS.

Any email system has to have a way of handling attachments, even on mobile devices. GoodLink downloads binary e-mail attachments in their entirety and launches a separate client viewer. For the Treo 600, Good Technologies sent me a trial edition of Documents To Go from DataViz that views (and, remarkably, edits) Word and Excel documents. By comparison, RIM's product converts attachments to scalable XML-based scalable vector graphics documents on the server.

Channels and marketing
A major difference between the two products is the way they are sold. While RIM is sold only through the major networks, O2, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Orange, GoodLink is sold directly, and through partners.

RIM's server has a purchase price, but GoodLink comes for a subscription fee, of £240 per client per year, including all software and support, which may make it work out cheaper than RIM.

OUR VERDICT

GoodLink offers users device choice, solid Exchange sync capabilities, and a great user interface. But device choice limits administrative control, and comparably poor handling of rich attachments and the inability to access behind-the-firewall intranet content detract from the simulated desktop experience.