Exchange Interop for the Rest of Us

Apple’s announcement yesterday that it plans to add support for Microsoft’s Exchange groupware server on the iPhone and the iPod Touch devices has gotten me thinking about Exchange support (or lack thereof) on other platforms, such as Linux and, strangely enough, Apple’s own OS X. It’s possible now to link up pretty much any mail client on any platform with Exchange via IMAP, but in order to access all the non-mail data that makes Exchange worthwhile, you need to find another route.

As eWEEK Labs’ own Tiffany Maleshefski detailed in her coverage of Microsoft’s latest release of Office for the Mac, the software giant’s Mac Business Unit opted not to include full Exchange support in Office 2008 because to do so would have been too difficult. At issue, apparently, was the complexity of the MAPI (Messaging API) interface through which Outlook on Windows communicates with Exchange. It seems to me that in the face of long-term, loudly expressed customer demand, there must have been a way for Microsoft to bring its own messaging API to one of its own products. I suppose, though, that when there isn’t a will, it doesn’t matter whether there’s a way.

In any case, with Exchange support for an Apple platform on the way in the form of ActiveSync for the iPhone, I wonder whether iPhone’s elder sibling, OS X, might be allowed to become Exchange-fluent via ActiveSync as well. And, if OS X can get connected to Exchange through ActiveSync, perhaps Linux clients could be allowed to do the same. Right now, apart from mail-only IMAP, the best way for a Linux user to link up with Exchange is through the Exchange Connector plug-in that ships with Novell’s Evolution groupware client, but even though Novell and Microsoft are now pals, MAPI support remains a Windows-only affair.

Here’s another possibility: Depending on how Microsoft defines “high-volume,” Exchange might fall under the firm’s recent interoperability initiative, in which Microsoft pledges to work toward enabling openness and interoperability for those who wish to teach their applications to talk to Microsoft’s high-volume products.

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