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First Look: BlackBerry Web Desktop Manager

In a day and age when reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) and operating overhead required to support enterprise messaging solutions are a top priority for organizations, it seems that fewer and fewer solutions providers are actually offering a means to their customers to aide in addressing these issues head-on, much less free of charge. Research In Motion recently announced their plans to release a web-based version of their desktop client application, aptly named BlackBerry Web Desktop (or BlackBerry Administration Service, which is it’s installed name).

I had my expectations for the product offering as being something that was put together in a post-DST mad-house rush, although these rather dreary expectations were far exceeded by the resulting present I was able to install earlier tonight.

The idea of reducing operating costs when deploying BlackBerry devices has always been atop most CIO and CFO’s lists of things that typically get swept under a rug somewhere, so this added incentive of removing the footprint left by BlackBerry Desktop Manager from end-user’s machines definitely allows for some rather joyous expressions on everyone’s faces, from deskside support groups to desktop management groups to systems administrators and right on up to the big dogs in the glass-wall offices. Throw in a simple installation and out-of-the-box full-functionality usage and we have a sure-fire winner with BlackBerry Web Desktop.

While there are obvious absences from the thin-client version of BlackBerry Desktop Manager, such as the newly added Roxio Media Manager as well as long-time veteran BlackBerry Desktop Redirector, the BlackBerry Web Desktop includes almost all basic functionality, including the ability to change your signature, configure filter settings, device switch management, and complete backup and restore functionality. Application Loader functionality is very similar to a shared/managed Application Loader configuration, where this functionality is available through a non-installed software version that references a shared repository for it’s packages, be it handheld upgrades or third-party applications.  It would appear that full charging capabilities are included with this thin-client, by way of a Device Manager thin-client, although I have yet to find a definitive answer to this question, either through RIM’s knowledge base or my limited time spent with the product itself.

With that said, it’s the functionality found exclusively within the BlackBerry Web Desktop, the ability to self-provision a wireless enterprise activation passwords, that makes this solution the most exciting to me. The various past implementations of user management, whether it was role-based administration, restrictive BlackBerry Manager switches, or scripting around the BlackBerry Resource Kit, have always come up quite short in terms of the ‘WOW!’ effect and appeal. Allowing an end-user to set their own wireless enterprise activation password is literally a godsend in most situations, although the lack of an open management interface to this particular module somewhat disappoints me, although that’s technically not what this product was designed for, either.

After the Daylight Saving Time fiasco involving Desktop Manager, where RIM’s solution was to upgrade to the latest version of Desktop Manager (version 4.2 SP1, at the time), even though it wasn’t even available yet, I’m really glad to see this approach in resolving almost all questions or concerns should there be a requirement in the future for similar amounts of time and resources to be spent on individual client software upgrades. The BlackBerry Web Desktop certainly combines all of the existing benefits of Desktop Manager, Device Manager, and shared Application Loader and expands on them exponentially, with very few negatives and many, many positives that help aid in the reduction of support costs and end-user headaches. Bravo RIM!