Lotus to license Exchange ActiveSync (updated)

Apparently IBM has decided that the best way to get mobile e-mail out of Notes/Domino is to license their primary competitor’s protocol! Network World ran a story today (“Lotus Notes/iPhone users to get their wish: real-time e-mail access“) claiming that IBM will include Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) support in a future release of Lotus Notes Traveler, IBM’s existing mobility solution. (Ed Brill mentioned it this morning, when I was revising this draft, too.)

This is fascinating for several reasons. First, it further solidifies EAS’ position as the dominant mobile sync protocol for e-mail, calendar, and contact data. When your biggest competitors (like Apple and Nokia in mobile devices and now IBM in collaboration software) come hat in hand to license your stuff, that’s a good sign. The original decision to license EAS to outside parties some years ago looks better and better– especially in light of the EU’s continued and bizarre insistence that Microsoft isn’t documenting and opening its protocols enough.

Second, this move implies some things about the state of the relationship between IBM (or at least the Lotus division) and Apple. IBM certainly has enough skilled developers to build their own equivalent of EAS, and to get it to run comfortably on the iPhone. Apparently, though, they don’t have the market leverage to get Apple to ship that protocol as a peer of EAS, or to allow IBM to evade the SDK restrictions on backgrounding. Of course, Apple only added EAS support in the first place to give them another attack (a submission, if you will, to borrow a little BJJ lingo) against RIM and WM. Apple apparently doesn’t feel the need to have a similar move up their sleeve for those shops running Notes.

Third, follow the money. I couldn’t find any evidence of an IBM-Microsoft cross-license for patents (which makes perfect sense given the companies’ respective stances on Linux). IBM doesn’t break out many separate numbers for sales of individual products, but given what I know about EAS licensing I expect that they’ll have to pay Microsoft a per-unit fee for the server software that implements EAS on the Domino side. That in turn gives Microsoft some interesting data they didn’t have before: how many licenses of Traveler IBM is selling. Oh, and cash money, too.

Fourth, can you imagine the field day Microsoft’s sales and marketing team is going to have with this? This is like one of those “write your own caption” contests.

Fifth, this represents a win for Windows Mobile too. Now they too can work seamlessly with Domino installations with no additional client software.

Meta-thought: IBM must have really wanted to get Notes on the iPhone. Why? It’s hard to imagine that it’s because of the huge overlap between Notes users and iPhone users, because I don’t believe such an overlap exists. Could this be an attempt by IBM to cash in on some of the halo generated by the iPhone? Does the iPhone coattail effect make up for having to license a protocol from the hated Redmondites? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Update: IBM’s actual press release is here. I like the phrase in the intro paragraph: “…intended support for Microsoft Active Sync”. I wonder what “intended” means in this context?

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