AppleInsider gets it wrong on Snow Leopard Mail

Ahh, the joys of the internets. Today’s treat for your delectation: this piece by Daniel Eran Dilger in AppleInsider about Snow Leopard’s Exchange support. Sadly, it’s riddled with factual inaccuracies.

In the software business, Microsoft has long known the importance of owning the client end. It worked hard to displace Netscape’s web browser in the late 90s, not because there was any money to be made in giving away browser clients, but because it knew that whoever controlled the client could set up proprietary demands for a specific web server. That’s what Netscape had worked to do as it gave away its web browser in hopes that it could make money selling Netscape web servers; Microsoft first took control of the client with Internet Explorer and then began tying its IE client to its own IIS on the server side with features that gave companies reasons to buy all of their server software from Microsoft.

I think this misstates what actually happened. Microsoft wasn’t trying to push IIS by tying IE to it. Instead, they were trying to prevent Netscape, and more broadly browser-based apps, from throwing Windows off the desktop 15 years later, Microsoft is still fighting that same battle, although against different opponents. For a web server to be useful, it must communicate with many different clients. For a browser to be useful, it must communicate with many
different servers. That’s the whole rationale behind the use of HTTP and HTML, for crying out loud.

Now we move on from matters of interpretation to matters of actual fact.

Apple’s support for Exchange and its promotion of its own Exchange alternatives are two sides of the same coin, in the sense that they use the same technologies. Apple built its support for Exchange using WebDAV, the open specification that Microsoft supports on Exchange Server as a way to deliver messages to mobile clients. Apple did not license Microsoft’s Windows-only “Exchange Active Sync” software; it merely licensed the rights to implement a compatible EAS conduit with Exchange. Apple owns the Snow Leopard software that talks to Exchange.

Unfortunately, this is just plain wrong in several ways.

  • Apple doesn’t use WebDAV for Snow Leopard. Instead, they use Exchange Web Services, a SOAP-based interface that delivers almost all of the functionality in the now-ancient MAPI stack. Microsoft shipped WebDAV support in Exchange 2000 in the apparent hope that they’d be able to do away with MAPI as the primary Outlook/Exchange protocol. Turns out that WebDAV– an open standard that Microsoft adapted in the name of interoperability– turned out to be a spectacularly bad choice from a performance and functionality standpoint. Unfortunately, Entourage used DAV. This limited Entourage’s functionality (but more on that later.>
  • Exchange ActiveSync isn’t a “Windows-only” protocol. It’s a well-described sync standard that can be licensed by device makers who want to talk to Exchange (Palm, Apple, SonyEricsson, and Nokia all have), or that can be licensed by server makers who want EAS devices to talk to their servers (IBM Lotus is the best example here.)
  • Snow Leopard doesn’t use Exchange ActiveSync.

On to another matter of interpretation:

This effort to support everything from integrated client software owned by Apple makes Snow Leopard’s support for Exchange of use to everyone, even if they don’t use Exchange. The client work Apple has invested in making Macs Exchange-friendly also improves the features available via MobileMe, Snow Leopard Server, and even some other third party services such as those from Google and Yahoo.

Snow Leopard’s support for Exchange only works with, well, Exchange. It certainly doesn’t work with Gmail or Yahoo. It’s questionable how well it even works with Snow Leopard Server. I’m reserving judgement until we get our 10.6 server set up at work so I can test it first hand.

Now, to jump back to something at the beginning of the article. Dilger says:

Microsoft has responded with the announcement that it will now be delivering a real (but still scaled back) version of Outlook for the Mac again, after a decade of giving enterprise Mac users a third rate alternative in Entourage, but Microsoft’s efforts to win back Mac clients may come too late to prevent the significant erosion of one of the primary reasons companies have to pay for Office on the Mac.

It’s ironic that Dilger labels Entourage as “third rate” given how many Entourage features are missing from Snow Leopard’s clients. However, Snow Leopard’s client implementation is nowhere near the functionality of what’s currently in Entourage, and I don’t think that’s likely to change when Microsoft ships their Mac version of Outlook.

1 Comment

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One response to “AppleInsider gets it wrong on Snow Leopard Mail

  1. Tim

    Wow! It’s quite astounding how wrong that article is.