Another key change is what RIM calls Unified Application Management, giving administrators much more control over deploying, securing, and managing applications, from RIM or from third-party or enterprise developers. In this new model, applications and information about them are "published" to a BlackBerry repository, which is then used to bundle applications together for user groups to schedule and control their distribution to devices.
Reliably pushing applications to the handhelds "has been a challenge for us," Panezic told his audience. That has just been greatly improved with the release in April of the latest BES version, 4.1.5, which lets administrators wirelessly distribute software updates to the devices. Argon will add to this a set of features that make this process more reliable and effective for large numbers of devices. The 5.0 release can check for software dependencies, juggle the software loading order to keep the installs in sequence, check to be sure the device has enough memory for the new software, and support event-driven updates, triggered by the user changing to a different cellular carrier, for example.
Argon will also let administrators deploy applications to lots of users in stages, 100 users at a time for example.
Other changes in Version 5.0:
* BlackBerry Monitoring System improvements, based on using a BES Monitoring Agent running on the device to provide real-time data, and alarms, on a range of critical trends, such as the sudden queuing of e-mails.
* Improved device activation diagnostics, allowing administrators to search and review activation status.
* Automated and manual failover of the BES.
More visibility and controls for the BES is a major attraction for users. "[I want] better monitoring of what's happening in the BES," says Jill Belben, lead staff support analyst, management information systems, at Florida Hospital, in Orlando. "And more ability to get detailed reports."
The Web-based management console is especially welcome. "Whenever there's a new service pack or BES upgrade, we have to manually upgrade the consoles on PCs," says Fidelity's Gayoso. The browser-based interface eliminates all that.
Automating deployment and updates of the BlackBerry client software is another welcome change. "Pushing out that software to devices today is all manual," says Mike Ferguson, staff support analyst at Florida Hospital. "That can take a couple of hours for us."
Argon's improved security features are a plus for Hector Gonzales, PC support manager for Adventis Health Systems, Winter Park, Fla. "Security granularity is more in-depth, and gives us more options," he says.
Coupled with the server improvements are other changes, and new directions for the overall platform, which includes development tools and application support. "We're integrating the Web [with the BlackBerry] in a way we've never done before," said Alan Banner, senior vice president, BlackBerry platform, speaking to a packed conference room on the future of mobile applications. RIM is adding widgets and rich media to the handset software, and exploiting Web services with the goal of making Web applications "first-class BlackBerry citizens," Banner said.
To enable these changes and many others to be leveraged by what are now more than 800 RIM software partners, RIM is creating a set of application frameworks, many of them targeted to vertical markets. The frameworks encapsulate functions and features of the BlackBerry software, enabling ISVs and enterprise developers to more easily build applications that exploit BlackBerry capabilities on the handsets and server.
And last month, RIM released a program that blends with the Eclipse development tool set for Java. Eclipse developers can now access BlackBerry APIs and other functions from within Eclipse, without the need for specialized tools. RIM previously released a similar plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio.
Network World is an InfoWorld affiliate.