Mobileand SafeE-Mail

Want to read and send messages securely when you're out of the office? The BlackBerry, Treo, and wireless carriers all have pros and cons

Reader James Morse wants to get e-mail when he's away from the office, but he's also concerned about his company's data security. He writes: "I need to be able to get company e-mails in real time, when I'm out of the office, and after hours. I also teach a college course and it would be nice to answer students' e-mails (quickly), rather than have them wait until I get home.

"BlackBerry comes to mind first, but is a BlackBerry the best choice? My personal wireless provider is Verizon Wireless, and for work it is Nextel. Also, my boss is worried that if I have my e-mails picked up by a BlackBerry, it will somehow compromise the company's server. Is this a valid concern? If yes, is there a solution?"

If you want to use Nextel, BlackBerry is your only choice, and you'll still be stuck with Nextel's dismal data service, at least until its parent, Sprint Nextel (S), transitions Nextel customers onto the Sprint network (at which point you will need a new device).

Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry, Palm (PALM) Treos, and devices running Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Mobile—all will serve the purpose of giving you mobile access to your e-mail and all have their strengths and weaknesses. Verizon Wireless, majority-owned by Verizon (VZ), offers a range of e-mail services.


  You'll have to decide what features are most important to you. For example, BlackBerry does very well at e-mail and Web browsing, but offers a very limited ability for you to add other programs. The Windows Mobile devices offer strong networking but boast a user interface that many people, me included, find frustrating. Palms are a bit weak in the networking department (though you may never notice), but are very flexible and easy to use.

As for security issues, the answer depends on your company's concerns. The BlackBerry itself would in no way compromise the server. But there is an issue if the handheld is lost or stolen. Typically, it will be programmed to let the user log in to mail without supplying a password each time. At a minimum, the device should be password-protected. BlackBerry Enterprise Server (or the functionally similar GoodLink server for Palm or Windows Mobile) makes handhelds secure. As soon as a device is reported lost, its contents can be remotely wiped out from the server.

A second issue arises if you are using software, such as BlackBerry Desktop Connect, that requires that your computer be turned on and logged in for you to get mail. Recognizing this, Research in Motion has started offering services for small and midsize businesses that are less expensive and complex than the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Most wireless carriers also offer server-based mail solutions that avoid this problem.

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