E-mail on the beach. Querying a database from an airplane. Faxing from the Beemer. These concepts, both frightening and alluring, are among the promises of wireless computing.
While a lack of standards, high costs, and technology hurdles are inhibiting universal usage of wireless networks, new solutions are emerging to support wireless access to LAN-based E-mail. Third- party products that support a variety of LAN-E-mail packages are joining the vendor-specific wireless clients that companies such as Microsoft Corp., Lotus Development Corp., and Da Vinci Systems Corp. already offer for their respective E-mail offerings. According to industry analysts and vendors, this horizontal application could be the spark that ignites the wireless data-services market.
Wireless E-mail software that can access LAN-based E-mail is designed for the traveling professional who has LAN-based E-mail but does not want to maintain two mailboxes.
“If you are always wireless, then a product such as [RadioMail Corp.’s] RadioMail gives you a specific wireless mailbox so your point of contact is always wireless,” said Eldon Greenwood, director of product marketing for servers and infrastructures at Novell Inc.’s Groupware division, based in Provo, Utah. For those returning to an office with LAN E-mail, however, wireless E-mail that can access the LAN-based mailbox is more suitable, he said.
Wireless E-mail software differs in the type of wireless services, LAN E-mail, and remote clients supported. Each vendor’s wireless E-mail offering also varies in its filtering functions and other features. New wireless E-mail products set for release from Cordless Computer Co., CE Software Inc., and River Run Software Group, for example, are aimed at easing the retrieval of messages from LAN- based E-mail.
Three new possibilities
Cordless Connection works with Oracle Corp.’s mobile application development tools, Oracle Mobile Agents, to provide wireless LAN E-mail access through the RAM Mobile Data network. When it ships in the second quarter, Cordless Connection will allow notebook users to access their messages in Lotus Development Corp. cc:Mail and Notes Mail as well as Microsoft Corp. Mail.
“If a corporation wants to give its mobile users access to corporate databases, then you also want to give them access to the corporate mailbox,” said William Ackerman, vice president of wireless products for Cordless Computer, in Menlo Park, Calif.
The Cordless Connection package offers the advantage of automatically delivering messages to the notebook computer via sessionless communications, said Ackerman. The user does not have to dial in and request messages.
“We let you get messages the moment they are ready,” said Ackerman. “To constantly dial in to see if there is a message and then discover there are none, or to find one that’s been there for 2 to 3 hours, is not optimal,” he said.
CE Software this month released MobileVision, an E-mail access package for use with Motorola Inc.’s Marco Wireless Communicator PDA (personal digital assistant). In its new release, MobileVision uses the Ardis wireless network to connect to CE Software’s QuickMail. By the third quarter, versions will be available for cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail, said Jim O’Gara, senior product marketing manager for CE Software, in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Unlike the popular RadioMail package, which sets up a unique remote-access mailbox for PDA and notebook users, MobileVision provides users with a direct link to LAN E-mail.
“We let you go in and completely access the identical mailbox while on the road,” said O’Gara of MobileVision. “We are looking to provide a solution to people who have already invested in a mail system. This is just an extension to their mail.”
With a direct link to LAN-based E-mail, MobileVision eliminates synchronization issues, O’Gara said. What is read and deleted from the PDA is mirrored on the LAN server.
River Run Software Group’s new entry is also for the Marco PDA. Called Mail on the Run, the software will allow users to retrieve Microsoft Mail and Lotus cc:Mail messages wirelessly, said Bob Perry, senior vice president of River Run Software Group, in Greenwich, Conn. Mail on the Run Personal and Professional are slated to ship in May.
Users of the Personal version will install the software on a Windows desktop that is attached to the LAN E-mail system. A wireless modem at both the desktop and Marco PDA will allow the two devices to exchange E-mail files through the Ardis wireless network.
The Mail on the Run Professional edition is installed on a Windows NT LAN gateway, allowing multiple users to wirelessly access their E-mail.
Mail on the Run is not dependent on the wireless connection, however, Perry said. “We have the ability to switch to a land-line connection,” he said. “There are times with wireless when you can’t get a signal
Other developers of wireless E-mail software continue to grapple with the constraints of wireless technology. Novell’s Groupware division, for example, plans to include wireless default settings for E-mail retrieval in a future release of Novell GroupWise Remote.
“We anticipated that the wireless user would understand the limitations of the wireless connection and the time and expense of downloading, so we let the user set filters,” said Greenwood of Novell Groupware.
“In practice, we are finding that we should provide a wireless profile to use as a starting point so users don’t make the mistake of downloading 100K bytes over wireless.”
For its part, Lotus has incorporated extensive filtering in cc:Mail Mobile. “There are 14 different criteria you can apply to filter mail when making a connection,” said Amy Shaw, senior product manager for cc:Mail. Once a filter is set, it remains set until the user changes it.