Lotus “Intends” to Support Microsoft ActiveSync

In some way one of the most important announcements from Lotusphere 2009 was not aired until Wednesday in a press release, nor covered in analyst pre-briefings, the general session, or a breakout. Ferris learned of it from a posting on Volker Weber's excellent Web site ("Ceci n'est pas un blog"). It is that Lotus "intends" to support Microsoft's ActiveSync on Domino, or more accurately, that Lotus "intends" Lotus Traveler to support ActiveSync.

I have chosen my words carefully here. It is not yet clear how technically grounded this plan is. Is it merely a plan? There appears to be a working prototype. Is there a production implementation in alpha test? I worry about this because, though I have never looked at the ActiveSync protocol in detail (it is not in the public domain), it's my understanding that it supports the exchange of compressed MAPI payloads over SyncML. At one level, this makes ActiveSync similar to Lotus' recently announced Traveler protocol for the Nokia S60 platform, which exchanges compressed Notes document payloads over SyncML. At another level, it is very different. The key to success will be how accurately Notes document payloads can be transformed into suitably equivalent MAPI payloads and vice versa. In the past, this has proved problematic. The jury will have to remain out on this one for some time.

Beyond the above, I have a number of questions. These do not include whether Microsoft will license ActiveSync to Lotus. IBM and Microsoft have a process in place for: a) sharing Intellectual Property (IP); b) valuing their use of each other's IP; and c) exchanging cash in respect of any imbalance. What does concern me is how robust Lotus' implementation will be. This is not so much an issue of compliance with ActiveSync as documented, but compliance with ActiveSync as mis-implemented both by Microsoft and mobile device manufacturers. There will be a lot of reverse engineering required.

In many ways this is a brave decision on Lotus' part. Lotus customers have been left out in the cold when it comes to mobile device support. This has been especially the case on the iPhone. This announcement would seem to indicate that Lotus is putting its customers first -- always a good thing -- and that Bob Picciano (Lotus' relatively new GM) is willing to: a) make hard decisions; b) not believe IBM's own propaganda; and c) do the right thing, however painful it may be.

One can only hope that Lotus can convince mobile device manufacturers to alter the "sync with" labels in its next releases to "Exchange or Domino" from "Exchange."

... Nick Shelness

One Comment

  1. Posted January 23, 2009 at 2:47 PM | Permalink

    Nick,
    ActiveSync is an extension to HTTP introducing new keywords besides GET/POST/PUT/DELETE. AFAIK the extensibility of HTTP is part of the w3 spec. The data format might be proprietary but could be iCal, Mime, vCard, so nothing much to call an IP there (this would need verification with the official spec). The MS licensing terms say (as far as I understood the legalese) that any device that wants to connect to a Microsoft Server using ActiveSync needs to have a license. The Domino server doesn’t want to connect to Microsoft Servers using ActiveSync, so that terms don’t match.
    At Lotusphere a working prototype was shown (using an iPhone) and delivery is planned for 2009 (subject to the usual disclaimers of course). Regarding the implementation: I have great confidence in Microsoft’s intention to comply with European rulings to improve the documentation of their protocols. This will lead to better implementations of both ActiveSync and MAPI. Btw. as a registered MSDN member you have access to Microsoft’s own ActiveSync spec. Nevertheless I agree with you, that careful testing is required.
    🙂 stw

    Disclaimer: I work for Lotus, but I’m not writing in any official capacity here, this are my own thoughts (full disclaimer on my blog).

  2. Nick Shelness
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 1:50 AM | Permalink

    Stephan,

    Thanks for your very useful posting. Let me deal with a number of your points in no particular order.

    > Btw. as a registered MSDN member you have access to Microsoft’s own ActiveSync spec.

    I let my MSDN subscription lapse several years ago. As a private individual, I couldn’t justify the expense.

    > ActiveSync is an extension to HTTP introducing new keywords besides GET/POST/PUT/DELETE.

    SyncML also has an HTTP binding. Does Active Sync add verbs (methods) beyond those added by WebDAV? How much of the ActiveSync spec is concerned with defining the transfer protocol (commands and responses), and how much is concerned with defining the payload?

    > The data format might be proprietary but could be iCal, Mime, vCard, so nothing much to call an IP there (this would need verification with the official spec).

    HTTP is certainly payload independent (consider SOAP), is ActiveSync, in and of itself, similarly payload independent?

    > I have great confidence in Microsoft’s intention to comply with European rulings to improve the documentation of their protocols.

    Hmm? I agree with you that Microsoft are now serious (though it took a while for responsibility to pass from legal to technical folks) about complying with EU documentation requirements. They currently have a small army of engineers in China writing the necessary documents. The problem, historically, was not that Microsoft didn’t share their documentation with others, it was that they didn’t have any.

    > This will lead to better implementations of both ActiveSync and MAPI.

    Hmm? I’m not sure that quality of implementation is as tightly tied to the quality/availability of documentation as you posit. It has never ceased to surprise many of us in the email community how distant from the relevant RFCs many SMTP and IMF (Internet Message Format) implementations are.

    That the Internet’s email infrastructure works a reliably as it does is a small miracle.

    Nick

  3. fr@nk
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 8:45 AM | Permalink

    Activesync Protocol detailed description: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc425499.aspx

    Frank.

  4. Nick Shelness
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 9:30 AM | Permalink

    Thanks fr@nk.

    I wonder why it didn’t come up on Google.

    Nick

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