Monday, February 09, 2009

Google's ActiveSync license - interesting

Google, I am your servant. Google has saved my iPhone from a heel grinding. As of today I have Push connection to five of our family calendars (Contacts are up next), and I didn't even need Microsoft to pervert the platform.

Pound sand, MobileMe.

Cough. Ok, so I did need a bit of Microsoft. Specifically, their ActiveSync monopoly (PalmPre). I figured this cost Google a fortune ...
Google licensed ActiveSync from Microsoft for this. I assumed they'd cloned it. I wonder what a ten million user license of ActiveSync costs? I don't imagine Microsoft gave Google much of a discount. It's an amazing testimony to the power of Microsoft's Exchange monopoly, and a marker for how serious Google is about making this work.
Ahh, but not so fast. Betanews has a different angle (emphases mine) ...

Google Sync made possible through patent license with Microsoft | Betanews

...[Google] licensed Exchange Server patents from Microsoft, in a deal that company is describing today as an "open" license.

This morning, Google launched its initial beta for a contacts synchronization service that enables individuals to share information for up to five mobile calendars and three e-mail addresses between devices, including iPhone, S60, BlackBerry, Sony Ericsson, and Windows Mobile phones. If that list sounded familiar, it's because their manufacturers are all on the patent licensing agreement list announced by Microsoft last December 18

Today, Google officially joined that list, though obviously because its beta has already been launched, its agreement with Microsoft must already have extended back at least several months.

Whether due to the evolving state of the market, the increasing demands by consumers for interoperability, the increasing threats from the European Commission, or a combination of these factors, Microsoft has steadily been increasing the availability of its technology, including to competitors. One of the most crucial of the protocols being opened up is Exchange ActiveSync, which Microsoft's own Exchange Server 2007 uses to maintain contact information, e-mail distribution, and point-of-presence between networked PCs and mobile devices.

It's easily the most effective synchronization protocol going, and has become the de facto standard. So Microsoft is under increased pressure to avoid being characterized as non-competitive or unfair with regard to one more standard upon which the world's businesses rely, which is also under its complete control.

Under Microsoft's current policy, the use of APIs to communicate with a system using one of its protocols, does not require a patent license. But serving up the protocol for yourself under your own brand name does require one, and that's what Google Sync does...
I wonder what's in the patent. I suspect it might include things like the definition of a "Contact" -- such as the data model.

It's also clear that Google isn't running a humungous version of Exchange Server -- they licensed the patents, they didn't buy Microsoft's software. Maybe this didn't cost them as much as I'd imagined.

I think we all owe the European Union a big "thank you" for forcing Microsoft to relinquish effective control of Exchange Server. This also suggests that BlackBerry is not as vulnerable to Microsoft's direct action as I'd imagined.

Now, on to sorting out my Contacts so I can, for the first time ever, have a unified contact set. More on that later ...

Update 3/4/09: In comments Leaskovski refers to the interesting example of "Z-Push", an open source project:
... Z-push is an implementation of the ActiveSync protocol which is used 'over-the-air' for multi platform ActiveSync devices, including Windows Mobile, iPhone, Sony Ericsson and Nokia mobile devices. With Z-push any groupware can be connected and synced with these devices...

... Open source Z-Push enables any PHP-based groupware package to become fully syncable with any ActiveSync-compliant device.

Being an opensource project under the GPL, it allows developers to add their own backend so that Z-Push can communicate with their groupware solution.

Currently, Z-Push is available with four backends: the IMAP and the maildir backend for e-mail synchronisation, the vCard backend for contact synchronisation and one for the Zarafa package which allows full synchronization of E-mail, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks. We expect that other backends arise in the near future as the opensource community gets the grips with the new possibilities....

Great project. I sure hope they succeed and I'll keep my eye open for z-Push news. Unfortunately Source Forge hasn't heard about feeds :-). Maybe one day.

It's interesting to watch the emergence of de facto standard data models driven by the need to support synchronization (a very demanding master). There are lessons aplenty for health care standards (HL-7 RIM, etc).


Anonymous said...

A good posting! Very informative and exactly what I wanted to know.

I am even wandering if it cost them a penny. The reason for saying that is if you look at "Z-Push". This uses their own implementation of the protocol but it is open source and from reading the forums, they havent paid a penny to MS.

I would love to know what happened!

JGF said...

Excellent tip on z-push. I'll add it as an update to the post.

Andrew Stegmaier said...

Is Z-push legal? Is there a chance that they will be shut down by Microsoft? Is there a chance of getting sued if you use it? Is it likely that Microsoft will do something to z-push like apple is doing to palm for flouting its desire to keep itunes syncing for ipods only. I'd hate to deploy it for one of my clients and then find that the link to their devices breaks whenever they download an update.

JGF said...

I don't know Andrew, but I believe Microsoft is eager to see ActiveSync implementations. I think they need to support alternatives due to their EU antitrust problems.