Sick and tired of responding to mountains of e-mail with that tiny BlackBerry keyboard? Frustrated with the small size of Word, Excel or PDF attachments on your mobile device’s screen? Well thanks to a new BlackBerry virtualization product you can now use a Bluetooth-enabled USB key to view RIM smartphone applications and documents on a PC screen and type with a full-size keyboard.
After purchasing the solution, users download the Bayalink Liberty software to their handhelds and configure it. (Note some BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BES settings may not allow third-party applications to be downloaded to corporate devices.) Then an icon appears on the BlackBerry home screen which connects the handheld to the USB key to beam data from that device to a connected computer.
You can access your BlackBerry mailbox and other applications like contacts and calendar information—in their native formats—and both Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers on a much larger screen, as well as type messages or commands using a normal sized keyboard. Messages sent using the Bayalink software are sent from the user’s BlackBerry, messages deleted from the home screen are deleted from the device’s mailbox, and messages opened via Bayalink interface are marked as read in the BlackBerry inbox. And connected BlackBerrys can still be used as phones when there’s an active Bayalink connection. Many BlackBerrys can be used as tethered modems when connected to a computer–carriers often charge extra for the service–but they lose their phone functionality in the process.
The Liberty key uses the BlackBerry data connection to access e-mail and the Web, so users can connect via most Windows-based PCs with USB ports, regardless of whether or not they’re in range of a LAN or Wi-Fi network. That means enterprise BlackBerry users who access the Internet through BES servers and connect to corporate systems via VPNs don’t need to mess with any clumsy VPN software when connecting with their laptops.
There are various security safeguards built into the Bayalink software. For instance, the viewer must be launched from users’ own handhelds—meaning a hacker or other nogoodnik with the application on their device cannot access your data. The Bluetooth connection can be encrypted with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), as well as Bayalink’s proprietary encryption services. Also, the PC used to access BlackBerry data never actually stores information locally, unless instructed to do so by the user, and if the key is removed or the handheld moves out of Bluetooth range the PC-based viewer automatically closes.
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The USB gizmo and its software go for $99.99, which includes a year’s worth of updates. But that really seems a bit pricy if you consider the fact that the license must be renewed for another $100 every 365 days.
Unfortunately, Bayalink Liberty only works with PCs running Windows 2000/XP/Vista, so Mac or Linux users are out of luck for the time being. And the software is only available for BlackBerry 8700 series devices with OS 22.214.171.124 or higher; BlackBerry Pearls; BlackBerry Curves; and BlackBerry 8830 World Edition smartphones. Also, you cannot edit your calendar or contact information using the Bayalink interface, which in my opinion greatly diminishes the value of the product calendar and address book functions. The company does plan to add this functionality in the future.
All things considered, Bayalink Liberty sounds valuable to me. I could see using it in airports during layovers and delays or on trains during travel. I don’t really go any where without Internet connectivity, but if I did, the fact that Bayalink Liberty can connect computers to the Internet via cellular data networks could certainly come in handy.
A video demo of the product in action is available on the Bayalink website.