For those of you who want to extend your Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server or Exchange Server 5.5 environments for mobile devices and applications, Microsoft Mobile Information Server (MIS) is your best option. Other solutions, such as Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry or the InfoWave solution for Exchange, are available but don't offer the features and platform for mobile applications that Microsoft aims to deliver in MIS.

The first version of MIS shipped last spring and didn't make a very big splash. In my opinion, Microsoft conceived MIS as a grandiose solution looking for a problem. However, with MIS 2002's release to manufacturing (RTM) this week, Microsoft backs away from the lofty goals it set forth in the original MIS platform. After taking some hard knocks from enterprise customers and wireless carriers, Microsoft has taken a more realistic approach with the updated MIS product. Instead of a solution that is all things to all customers, MIS now simply provides a platform for using Exchange and custom Microsoft .NET applications to enable mobile-device solutions.

MIS 2002 Enterprise Edition contains three key features: Browse, Notify, and Server ActiveSynch. The Browse feature lets mobile devices (e.g., mobile phones, pagers, and PDAs) browse corporate resources such as Exchange 2000 or Exchange 5.5 mailboxes or intranet Web sites. MIS also sends notifications about email messages, contact and task changes, and messages from custom applications to your mobile device (through Short Message Service—SMS). MIS uses Server ActiveSynch to synchronize your Pocket PC 2002 devices with certain Exchange 2000 mailbox folders (e.g., Inbox, Calendar, Contacts). This feature lets Pocket PC 2002 users securely synchronize their devices over an intranet or a wireless carrier (through HTTPS, in the same way that Desktop ActiveSynch works with Pocket PC or Windows CE devices).

Mobile device users who want to browse corporate resources must have a device with either a Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) browser or a Microsoft Mobile Explorer (MME) browser (available on future devices such as the Microsoft Stinger phone). Users of WAP-enabled devices send requests to an MIS server through a WAP gateway, such as Nokia or Phone.com. The WAP gateway translates the WAP request (which uses Wireless Markup Language—WML—over Wireless Transport Protocol—WTP) to HTTP or HTTPS, asking for resources from the MIS server. If you use an MME-based device, you don't need a WAP gateway; the device can send an HTTP request directly to the MIS server, which then provides browse access to intranet resources such as your Calendar, Inbox, Contacts, and Tasks.

MIS can send event notifications from Exchange 2000 or other custom applications to any device that can receive SMS messages. MIS sends these notifications to the wireless service provider through HTTP (when the service provider has MIS Carrier Edition installed) or through SMTP. The wireless carrier forwards these messages (140 bytes in length) to the carrier's SMS Center (SMSC). For example, I have an Inbox rule that moves important messages into my Mobile Inbox (MIS creates the Mobile Inbox when you activate the MIS features on your mailbox). When messages show up in this folder, my Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) provider sends a notification to my SMS-capable cell phone telling me I've received an important message. I use my phone's WAP browser to access my MIS server and view the message (formatted for WML). (Microsoft Outlook Mobile Manager—MOMM—provides similar functionality through its desktop-based notification engine. MIS 2002 provides this service as a server-based function, eliminating the need for MOMM.)

MIS 2002 focuses on these three core features (browse, notify, and synchronize), which is a welcomed approach compared with earlier MIS versions that tried to provide a wireless mobility platform that was all things to everyone. I'm impressed with MIS 2002 and recommend that you take a look at this version if you want to provide these capabilities to your mobile device users. For more information about MIS 2002, visit the following Web site: