BlackBerry Enterprise Server v4.1

Over the weekend, I decided to take BlackBerry up on their offer for a free BES server. After unsuccessfully attempting to install it on a windows XP hosted system - the MS SQL database failed to install - I attacked one of my test win2k3 servers.

(Why on earth would I install it on windows XP ? Well, XP is cheap, and perfectly happy running Domino servers for SMB environments. Why bother paying £2k for a server license ? And some of our test servers are on XP...)

After an hour of seeing "Cannot find notes.ini" file during install, I finally figured out that the BES server was using the registry to find the Notes.ini file, and of course since I'd manually moved my server to consolidate storage some time ago, it was pointing at the wrong place. Frustratingly, the BES install didnt report where it THOUGHT it might find the notes.ini file, and therefore took a while for me to figure it out.

(and it must be said it was Sunday morning, and I was half-asleep, okay?)

During all this, the machine that the software was being installed on suffered a series of hardware faults, thus *really* helping my blood pressure. This machine has been running along for about two years, and decided to overheat yesterday. Cest la vie. This also means that I have to upgrade a Windows 2003 web server to a Windows 2003 "standard" server, so that I have more than one Domain controller on the test network.

( Can you upgrade "Web" to "Standard" ? No. Of course not. Why on earth should Microsoft allow their customers to uipgrade from one server type to another ? Sigh. Anyhoo, thats my job for today. )

Also frustratingly, the BES server requires a server reboot half way through the installation. Which means in the three hours that I took to figure out my registry error, I must have rebooted that machine 20 or so times. Very very time consuming.

Which leads me - rather ponderously - onto the decision from BlackBerry to give away BES servers to small sites. I think commercially its an excellent move - RIM (and their carriers) after all, are only interested in handset activations. And anything that drives that is good news for them.

It also removes a significant entry barrier for their product. Previously, the IT "person" in an SMB would have to beg and borrow for months to get authorisation for a few thousand pounds expenditure. No more. Now all the SMB has to do is bimble along to his local Vodafone shop (much as I disliked their gouging me for £2k for roaming charges in the past, I do recognise that the UK market is served by two carriers in this respect, and Vodafone is the lesser of the two evils), buy a handset with SIM, and within an hour, are up and running. And running. And running.

So I can see a lot of "non-domino" folks installing BES in the very near future. Under significant time pressure, and without any form of training. The installation itself is good enough for a reasonably competent person to install BES for sure, but things like "Notes.ini not found" messages absolutely need more information and a resolution path before they're SMB tolerant.

So BlackBerry - if your reading this - please understand that this is a very very successful commercial expansion of your service, but also recognise that the existing install could be made significantly easier.. And that in turn lowers your support costs (and/or the carriers support cost), and drives up handset adoption.

Here's an idea. Find someone in your test labs that knows nothing of domino and installing BES. An Apple Mac user, for instance. Someone unused to dealing with the horrors of installing stuff on Windows. Video them. Get them to talk through their impressions. Takes a day, and then another day to add much more explanatory text to the installer..

After all, love em or hate em - BlackBerries are quite boring. You switch them on, activate them over the air, and forget about them. Forget about any form of updates/reloads/refreshes, forget about charging them for days on end, and of course since they're NOT running Windows CE/Windows mobile 5, they're reliable and secure. Compared to my old XDA2 phone, I know which one I'd much rather support. Price, after all, is immaterial, if each support call costs $50/call...

And thats before we start playing with web-serviced applications via MDS studio, right ?

'Nuff said.