Apple Snow Leopard and Exchange: the real story

Apple’s Snow Leopard (OS 10.6) came out last week, and one of its most hyped features is native support for Microsoft Exchange. Here’s what Apple says:

With Snow Leopard, the Mac is the only computer with built-in support for the latest version of Microsoft Exchange Server. So you can use your Mac — with all the features and applications you love — at home and at work and have all your messages, meetings, and contacts in one place.

What this means is that eager Mac users will be upgrading to Snow Leopard and expecting to be able to connect to Exchange at work with Apple-style “it just works” ease of configuration.

The truth is more complex; and I’m disappointed with both Apple’s publicity and the number of reviews that have simply reported its claims without investigation. That said, it is a tricky subject, and I have some sympathy with Apple, which is doing more or less the right thing at a technical level.

Configuring Snow Leopard Mail to use Exchange

The first thing to understand is that there are myriad ways of connecting to Exchange, including:

  • MAPI, which is Microsoft’s proprietary API
  • IMAP, which is a standard protocol for server-based email
  • ActiveSync, which is a Microsoft protocol used for mobile devices
  • RPC over HTTPS, effectively MAPI over SSL, enabling Outlook to connect from outside the network without VPN
  • Outlook Web Access, a web UI for Outlook
  • WebDAV, now deprecated
  • Exchange Web Services, which communicate using SOAP XML messages

Which of these protocols are actually enabled, and whether they are published beyond the internal network, is a matter for Exchange admins to configure.

The usual generic method to connect to Exchange from a miscellaneous client is IMAP, and this is exactly what Apple supported in Mail before Snow Leopard, and still supports. IMAP works pretty well in my experience, but it is only for email and does not expose any Exchange-specific features.

Snow Leopard adds support for Exchange Web Services (EWS), giving a much richer level of access to Exchange. First snag: EWS is only supported in Exchange 2007, which is why Apple says in its small print:

requires Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Update Rollup 4

Second snag: even EWS does not all the features of MAPI, and some features (notably public folder support) were only added in Exchange 2007 SP2, which has just been released. This probably explains why Mail does not (as far as I can tell) support public folders.

The key thing to understand is that Snow Leopard is not using the same protocol as Outlook and therefore does not have access to the same set of features.

What works and what doesn’t

Let’s assume that you have Snow Leopard and Exchange 2007 SP1. What works and what doesn’t? Based on my experience so far:

  • You will be able to connect on an internal network or VPN, provided that EWS is enabled, which it usually is. You may need to install a digital certificate to avoid warning messages.
  • Mail, Calendar (iCal), tasks and notes in your Exchange mailbox all appear nicely.
  • When outside the network, you will only be able to connect over the Internet if EWS is published externally, which it often is not. You cannot use RPC over HTTPS.
  • There is no access to public folders (note that these are deprecated, but still widely used).
  • It is not possible to send from an email address other than the default.
  • You cannot use Exchange delegation features, such as accessing other mailboxes.
  • Mail will download the entire mailbox; you cannot set it only to download recent items. There is no “online mode” as there is with Outlook.
  • When offline, you can access existing items, but new messages have to be saved as drafts. This is unlike Outlook, which gives you full access to send mail, delete etc, and synchronises on re-connect.

Snow Leopard vs Entourage

You might imagine that Microsoft’s own Entourage product would do a better job than Apple Mail at connecting to Exchange. This is not necessarily the case. The problem is that Entourage 2008 doesn’t use MAPI either. In its first incarnation it uses WebDAV. This proved so problematic that Microsoft quietly released a new Web Services Edition that uses EWS, like Snow Leopard. Even this is a temporary expedient, as the Mac Business Unit has announced Outlook for the Mac. The implication is that it will be closer to feature-parity with Outlook on Windows, though it’s not clear to me whether this means MAPI, or EWS, or who knows what?

My view is that unless you need some specific feature of Entourage, or find that Entourage mysteriously works where Snow Leopard does not, you are likely better off without it. This presumes Exchange 2007, of course. The fundamental reason is that Mail and iCal are nicely integrated with the operating system, whereas Entourage is not so good in this respect; there have also been quality issues with Entourage.

It would be good to see a detailed technical note from Apple and/or Microsoft on Snow Leopard’s Exchange support, how to configure Exchange for it, and any implications for security etc. In the meantime, there is an interesting discussion on Apple’s forums which highlights the issues.

For all its (many) faults, Outlook on Windows remains a better Exchange client than either Snow Leopard or Entourage.

Apple Snow Leopard: why don’t we all use Macs?

Last Friday I attended Apple’s press briefing for Snow Leopard, and I’ll be a Mac (mostly) for the next few days as I put OS 10.6 through its paces. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set up my desktop so that I can easily switch between Mac and Windows, so it is no great hardship.

Snow Leopard is a relatively low-key release, timed by accident or design to appear not long before Windows 7 makes its full public debut in October – though many IT professionals are already using the final build. In the unlikely event that you’ve missed the many reports, the headline new features are:

  • Many small refinements and speed improvements
  • Major applications re-written in 64-bit
  • Grand Central Dispatch – OS-level support for easier concurrent programming
  • OpenCL – standard means of using the GPU (graphics processing unit) for general processing, not just graphics
  • Exchange support in Mail, iCal and Address Book

The Exchange support is welcome, though unfortunately it is limited to Exchange 2007. It was already possible to access Exchange in Mail, though the older support (which still exists for pre-2007 Exchange) was based on IMAP, whereas the new support is based on Exchange web services and has richer features.

I use Exchange 2007, and found it easy to set up my account in Mail. Unfortunately I’m missing some Outlook features, such as the ability to choose a different Sender  address, and I’ve found it prone to a few mysterious pauses –  once it went into a sulk for over a minute when I marked a message as junk – but this might be a problem with Exchange web services rather than Mail, who knows? I also have some public folders which appear to be inaccessible from Mail or iCal. Then again – Entourage isn’t as flexible as Outlook either.

Still, I  expect the Exchange support will be good enough for many users, and this will make it easier to integrate Macs into Windows-based networks.

So, here’s a thought experiment. Let’s make an assumption:

  • Most people prefer the Mac operating system over Windows, and prefer the Mac hardware over most PC or laptop hardware.

If that is the case, why do we not all use Macs?  There’s a host of reasons which come to mind, starting with price. I looked at and, which are owned by the same group. The cheapest Mac I can find (Mac Mini + keyboard, mouse and display) is currently £536.96, vs £260.86 for a PC; and the cheapest laptop is £645.99 + VAT for a MacBook vs £216.52 for a cheapie PC laptop with Vista Basic. These differences are not small.

Note I am not saying that the Mac is poorer value; that is an entirely different argument.

A second big issue is application compatibility. Although there is no problem that cannot be solved with finding alternatives, or dual boot, or a virtual machine, it is all friction that impedes Mac acceptance.

Third, there is the greater manageability of Windows in a corporate environment based on Windows. This is a form of incumbent advantage, which is hard to break unless the incumbent messes up badly. Arguably Microsoft has messed up badly, though less in the business context than in the consumer context, and Windows 7 will pull back some lost ground.

The above leads me to believe that Snow Leopard is not likely to change the status quo significantly – understanding that the status quo is that Apple is gradually increasing its market share – even granting the assumption I made, which is somewhat controversial. On balance, I consider it more likely that Windows 7 will stem the flow towards Apple, though without a high degree of confidence.

More significant than either factor is the continuing migration towards the Internet. In this respect I’ve argued that Apple is like Microsoft. The Internet is a great leveller; it will reduce the friction of changing operating systems (helping Apple) but also make Apple’s UI advantage less noticeable (helping Windows/Linux/Google), and make it harder to sell expensive desktop software (Microsoft is the bigger loser here I think).

It’s fun to speculate; but I must add that so far Snow Leopard has been a pleasure to install and use. Technically, Apple hasn’t missed a beat with OS X since the first release, and that’s an impressive achievement.

Apple, Spotify, Google and iPhone: how to get into App Store

I was mildly surprised to see that Apple has approved Spotify for iPhone. Reason: if someone buys into the Spotify subscription model, why would they ever want to purchase music from iTunes, whether for iPhone or elsewhere? The iPhone version lets you listen to selected tracks offline, so that is not a problem.

Here’s a bit of speculation. Maybe Spotify benefited from the fallout over Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application – though Apple says it “continues to study it”. The Google Voice move drew articles like Apple is growing rotten to the core from TechCrunch. The question for Apple: did it want another high-profile, self-interested app rejection while still fighting Google Voice?

A further consideration is that Spotify is a tiny company compared to Google; music download/streaming enterprises come and go, and Spotify has a tricky task ahead making its business model work, as Mark Mulligan observes. Further, there’s nothing to stop Apple launching its own streaming, subscription service if it chooses to do so.

If Apple felt it had to choose between the threat of Google Voice, and the threat of Spotify, it is easy to see why it would pick the latter.

It follows that if you want to get your difficult, might-compete-with-Apple app into App Store, you should:

1. Build a decent-sized community around your service first.

2. Make a lot of noise when you submit your app.

3. Make even more noise should Apple reject it (this did not apply to Spotify, but it has worked for others).

4. Choose a moment when Apple is already embroiled in App Store battles that are more important than yours.

Publicity makes all the difference.

With all this, will Spotify succeed? The service is fantastic, but I’m not sure about people’s willingness to add £10 per month to their already-expensive iPhone contracts. However, I still think what I have argued for years: that in the digital age, music subscription makes more sense than paid-for permanent downloads.

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Nokia announces N900, juggles three operating systems

Nokia has announced the N900 Internet Tablet running the Linux-based Maemo operating system. This is the latest in a series of Tablets (not to be confused with Microsoft’s Tablet PCs), but the first one to include “cellular features”, which means it can make and receive phone calls, though the press release hardly mentions it.

This is a big deal since this is now in effect a SmartPhone (as the Reg observes) and therefore may be offered with operator subsidies, which seems essential for grabbing market share in the crazy mobile phone business. Nokia needs a success with this one, as its previous Tablets have made little impact beyond an enthusiast niche.

The full specification shows support for quad-band GSM EDGE as well as tri-band WCDMA. There’s also integrated GPS; wi-fi; 5 megapixel camera; Mozilla web browser (not WebKit); Adobe Flash 9.4; Mail for Exchange; 1GB of RAM split between application memory and virtual memory, and 32GB internal storage. Oh, and there’s a slide-out QWERTY keyboard so this could be a great device for messaging.

This comes just after Nokia’s Windows netbook announcement, the Booklet 3G, while the company is also running the Symbian Foundation and supposedly driving Symbian as an open-source mobile OS to rival Google’s Android.

The big question: how many operating systems does Nokia need? I can understand its desire to get on the Windows 7 bandwagon with the Booklet 3G, but why continue with both Maemo and Symbian?

Still, the N900 looks like a neat device; see here for full information and images.

Review: Animal Kingdom – signs and wonders

I reviewed this on Amazon and called it “Quirky, mystical and tuneful”. It’s the debut album from a promising London band, though this was recorded in Seattle. Animal Kingdom has been quietly building a fan base, playing support to the likes of Snow Patrol as well as their own club gigs.

The band has already released two singles, both excellent: the affecting, ethereal Chalk Stars, and the pulsating Tin Man, a love song for the electronic age. Both songs feature here, along with the new single Signs and Wonders which is not quite the equal of the first two, but still a catchy number.

What you get is Richard Sauberlich’s delicate, keening vocals; lyrics which are quirky and mystical, and music that is pacey and tuneful. The band cite a broad range of influences from Arcade Fire, to Dylan, to the Cure, to Massive Attack, all of which can be heard in snatches here and there.

As you might expect from an album called Signs and Wonders, there’s plenty of biblical imagery: Two by Two (think Noah’s Ark), Walls of Jericho, Mephistopheles, and more.

It all passes pleasantly enough, and that in a way is the problem. Could there be a tension between the band’s darker instincts and its pursuit of that elusive mass market? At times this CD is just a bit too pretty and poppy. By contrast, my favourite track is the swirling Mephistopheles, declaimed rather than sung, and featuring disturbing, evocative imagery against a pounding but delicate keyboard background.

Not perfect then; but Signs and Wonders is well worth it for its best moments, which are superb. Catch Animal Kingdom live if you can, and watch this space.

Animal Kingdom is Richard Sauberlich (vocals, guitar, piano), Wayne Yardley (guitar), Hamish Crombie (bass) and Geoff Lea (drums).

How sinful is Windows?

Anyone who has benefited from the open source movement – which I guess is anyone who uses the Internet – should respect the Free Software Foundation for its efforts in championing the cause. Linux, Apache, PHP: all shining examples of how the community working alongside (not against) the software industry can create software of amazing value.

Speaking for myself, this site runs on WordPress, Apache, Linux and MySQL. There are proprietary alternatives, but they cost more and in some cases work less well. I also run a Linux server in my office, and boot into Linux on my laptop – though less often since Windows 7 arrived.

It is this latter point that seems to have spooked the FSF, which has launched an ill-conceived attack on both Windows 7 and proprietary software in general. There’s even a website dedicated to the sinfulness of Windows.

Unfortunately the campaign is both misdirected and poorly executed. The open letter tends toward hysteria and not all its points stand up to scrutiny.

Like its plans to include DRM restrictions with Windows Vista, Microsoft’s continued attacks against the security, privacy and freedom of your organization, are no mistake.

Well, the protected media path does exist, but I’m not clear how this has impacted organizations using Vista; Microsoft says it is inactive when non-DRM media is played, and I have no reason to disbelieve this.

There are significant privacy issues for users today, but are they Windows-related? I’d suggest that it is the Internet that is more significant here, and Google more than Microsoft that is the threat. Switching to Linux will not change that.

With its most recent actions, it further threatens computing standards by polluting and perverting the OpenDocument standard with its own XML-based file format.

This one is odd: Microsoft’s Open XML is not part of the OpenDocument standard, though in some respects it competes with it. Thus, it cannot be polluting or perverting it, though it could make it less pervasive.

With this and other misleading points the FSF weakens its case and makes it less likely to be taken seriously.

Leaving that aside though, would it pay organizations to abandon Windows, Office and/or OS X in favour of Linux? It might in some cases; but I’ve spent enough time with Linux and open source software to realise that it is not the best solution to every problem.

Vista and its poor reputation has been a gift to those offering alternatives, including Apple as well as free software advocates, and that is about to change as Windows 7 launches. Not that Windows 7 is perfect; but it is a job well done.

That said, we need the free software movement, and we need the likes of Linux and, if only to be a restraining influence to the high prices and proprietary lock-in which the big software companies – whatever they may say – like to impose. There is some truth in what the FSF claims – but not enough to make this an effective campaign.

See also Alan Zeichick’s remarks.

Hope for old PCs with Windows 7

Yesterday I installed Windows 7 Professional on an older PC – it dates from 2001 or possibly 2002, and has a Pentium 4 1.8Ghz on Intel’s 845 chipset. Only 768MB RAM is installed – generous for XP in those days, but below the 1GB minimum spec for Windows 7.

I thought I would try it anyway. It turned out that Windows 7 installed without complaint – I believe you have to go down to 512MB before setup actually protests – and I was impressed with how smooth the process was. There is a Creative Audigy soundcard installed; and after logging on for the first time, Windows automatically downloaded an update which got this working. Device Manager shows no errors other than a “PCI Input Device” which I suspect is the joystick port on the Creative soundcard. A cheap USB wireless card was recognized first time, and the add-on USB 2.0 card also works fine.

I am also impressed by the performance. I stuck on Office 2007, ran up Word and Excel with a couple of documents open, and looked in Resource Monitor:

This shows 274MB still available; at this level of use, the machine is not under any pressure.

It is not fair to make a direct comparison with XP since it had been installed for a while and would have built up a bit of cruft. However, Windows 7 is subjectively slightly faster, if anything, and you could not say that for Vista on the same machine.

I am not recommending that anyone runs Windows 7 on a below-spec machine, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

I’ve also been pleased with the in-place upgrade I did on my laptop, a 2006 Toshiba M400. This machine is much younger of course; though at three years old laptop batteries tend to die and sometimes it is hard to justify the cost of a replacement. This one is running so well that I have replaced the battery.

I am sure the industry is counting on Windows 7 to drive sales of new machines. There is another angle on this though, which is that old machines that were not much fun with Vista may be rejuvenated by a Windows 7 installation. Extending their life is good for the balance sheet as well as for the environment, so I am all in favour.

Yet another angle on this is that there is more incentive to go through the pain of reinstalling the operating system for Windows 7 than there was for Vista. I suspect this means that we will see rapid adoption, exceeding most expectations. For developers, that means it will pay to support Windows 7 features like the new taskbar sooner rather than later.

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Delphi and C++ Builder 2010 are out

I’ve installed the new Delphi from Embarcadero. I want to enthuse about this product, as a long-time Delphi enthusiast, but a few things have dampened my zeal:

1. The install on Windows 7 64-bit was not totally smooth. First Avira Antivir claimed that a file installed during setup, called convert.exe, contained a virus (not the fashionable new one, something else called DR/Delphi.Gen dropper). I thought this was most likely a false positive. I tested the file with with Kaspersky which declared it clean, and I’ve emailed Avira about the problem.

I’m not sure why I bother at all with running anti-virus software. It is very little use. After all, what is the point of having it, if when it claims to find something you ignore it? On the other hand, what is the chance that this is a real virus on Embarcadero’s new CD, that Kaspersky does not detect?

None of this is Embarcadero’s fault, of course, unless it has shipped a virus, which I doubt.

2. Next, on running and quitting Delphi 2010 for the first time, the Windows Program Compatibility Assistant was triggered. See this earlier post for what this guy looks like and what it does. This one made the same change, ELEVATECREATEPROCESS.

A minor niggle perhaps, but it looks bad. At this stage, the Delphi team should have come to terms with UAC and made RAD Studio properly UAC-aware. I’m guessing most of the team run with UAC disabled.

3. Another UAC issue. When the IDE starts up, you get a message:

Error executing ‘C:\ProgramData\{BBD31133-40F8-4B57-9BA6-DB76C03D153B}\Setup.exe’: The parameter is incorrect

This does not occur if you run as administrator.

4. I ran up the IDE and noticed there is a new documentation wiki with user contributions. I think this is a great idea. It seems to be built with mediawiki. Unfortunately it failed with “A database query syntax error has occurred”. Update: it’s working now.

5. I’d understood that Delphi 2010 is somewhat Windows 7 ready. It has great support for multi-touch and gestures. That’s fine, but I was interested to see how to support the Windows 7 Jump Lists. A Jump List is the menu that pops up when you right-click a taskbar icon.

Well, if support for this is there I can’t find it. There is support for the Windows 7 Direct 2D Canvas, and as I mentioned for multi-touch, but that’s about all I can find.

It’s a shame because only a few people will be using multi-touch in the near future, and Direct 2D is not a feature visible to users, but the new Windows 7 taskbar and its features – there’s also the ability to add controls to taskbar preview windows – is the thing that every Windows 7 user will notice.

Of course you can easily call the Windows API from Delphi, and the community will figure out how to support these features before long; there’s already an alpha “Windows 7 controls for Delphi” that Daniel Wischnewski has come up with. But I’d like to have seen it in the box, and it would have been a nice selling point.

Don’t let me put you off. There are other new features – including Firebird support, integrated code formatter, better thread debugging -  and no doubt the core of Delphi is as good as ever (no 64-bit yet, but it will come eventually).

Still, my impression is that Embarcadero still has to work a bit on that last degree of polish. One final gripe: why is the discussion forum so darn slow? It has also been in beta forever.

More information here.

Nokia’s Windows Booklet 3G – Anything but Apple?

There are several interesting things about Nokia’s just-announced Booklet 3G. One is the battery life: Nokia claims “up to 12 hours of battery life”, which is an immediate selling point among transatlantic travellers and the like.

Another is that it runs Windows. I guess after the announcement of Microsoft Office Mobile for Nokia devices earlier this month it should not be a huge surprise; but I admit there was a time when I thought Nokia would never release a Windows device.

I am sorry in some ways that this is not a Tablet running Maemo, a variety of Linux as seen on the Nokia N810 and others; I’m also sorry that Nokia is not experimenting with a Windows 7 Tablet, which would be suitable for a device of this size (10 inch screen) and make it more convenient for some operations; but I guess the company is playing safe by providing a keyboard; I’m also not convinced that Windows 7 is good enough yet for touch-only users.

The third point to note is that Booklet 3G ties in with Ovi Services: music, maps, cloud storage, app store, and more.

Why is Nokia partnering with Microsoft? I guess this is a vote of confidence in Windows 7, for a start. But I also guess that Nokia is badly rattled by Apple, whose iPhone is eating into Nokia’s Smartphone sales, and that partnering with Microsoft, unthinkable when Windows Mobile was the enemy, now makes sense.

Let me add: if Apple does release a Tablet in the near future, Booklet 3G is also likely to suffer.

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Adobe to announce Flash, Creative Suite roadmaps at MAX 2009

It looks like Adobe has some significant announcements planned for its MAX 2009 [warning: auto-play video] conference on October 4-7. The sessions that intrigue me most are the roadmaps: these include:

  • Roadmap: Flash Platform Runtimes
  • Roadmap: Flash Platform Servers and Services
  • Roadmap: Flash Platform Tooling and Framework – this session is to be given by Greg DeMichillie, now director of product management for Developer Tools. DeMichillie is ex-Microsoft and used to work on Visual Studio in the early days of C# and Visual J++, though he left in 2001.
  • Roadmap: Web Professional Tools and Services in Creative Suite
  • What’s ahead for Flash Catalyst
  • What’s coming in Adobe AIR 2

Looks like a lot to take in; it will be fascinating to see more detail about where Adobe is taking its platform.