by Shane O'Neill

Windows Phone 7 and Droids: The Exchange Connection Disconnect

Dec 21, 2010
Data Center

Syncing my Windows Phone 7 and Droid Incredible smartphones with Exchange and Outlook shouldn't be this difficult.

I knew Microsoft was more consumer-focused with their new Windows Phones, but I found out today that they are letting businesses fall by the wayside.

I’m not saying Microsoft is neglecting corporate needs, but I did have a personal experience with a Windows Phone this week that made me think twice.

Redmond was kind enough to send me a Samsung Focus Windows Phone, which I’ve enjoyed playing around with. I really like the category tile layout of the home screen, the access to full-featured Office docs through Office Mobile and the smooth touch-screen capability (WP7 multi-touch is noticeably smoother than my personal Droid Incredible phone).

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It’s a good phone, if not exactly visually exciting. The Samsung hardware feels a bit too plasticy. The blue tile layout that gathers information into sections like people, mail, messaging, phone, marketplace, pictures, etc. is well organized for quick access to information, but the “big blue blocks” aesthetic is dull. Nevertheless, the overall interface is better at keeping information at your fingertips than the BlackBerrys and Droids that I’ve used (Sorry, I can’t speak for the iPhone).

But when I tried to connect my WP7 phone to my Outlook e-mail account through EAS (Exchange ActiveSync), I couldn’t do it. What a turn off.

It sounds simple enough: sync a Microsoft mobile OS with Microsoft Exchange. I thought these devices were designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft’s ecosystem.

Apparently not. When I requested that my Windows Phone be connected to my company’s Exchange server I was kindly informed that could not happen because Windows Phone 7 phones do not support on-device encryption.

What the what??

Many businesses require such encryption to be able to access corporate data through EAS policies and they will automatically block connections from devices that don’t support device-level encryption.

Apple’s iPhone 3G S, iPhone 4, iPad all support on-device encryption. The BlackBerry is renowned for on-device encryption and uses its own server technology, BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server), to connect corporate networks, including Exchange.

Microsoft is letting things slide here. It is preventing me from connecting to Microsoft’s own corporate e-mail platform. Windows Phone 7 is targeted at consumers more than Microsoft will admit, and integrating it into your work life is not the no-brainer you would think. They didn’t even bother to provide a robust mobile security feature required at most enterprises.

A Microsoft spokesperson stated that Windows Phone 7 supports many Exchange ActiveSync policies, but admits that it does not currently support “advanced on-device encryption.” The spokesperson did not comment on whether Microsoft plans to add more on-device encryption to Windows Phone 7 other than to say, “we are not discussing any Windows Phone 7 security measures in depth today, but will continue to innovate on the platform.”

On-device encryption has also been a sticking point with connecting Droid phones to corporate networks. Android 2.2 reportedly includes on-device encryption, although I’ve had trouble getting my new personal HTC Droid Incredible phone, which runs 2.2, connected to Exchange. No one can figure out why. I’m sure IT will sort out what’s wrong, but all this trouble getting on Exchange makes me long for my reliable, unsexy BlackBerry Curve, which connected quickly and securely with Exchange through BES. Never had a problem with it.

For now, I have two of the most modern smartphones on the market and neither can connect with Exchange. That don’t seem right.

In defense of IT departments everywhere, having workers suddenly demand that their shiny

new smartphones sync up with Exchange is a new frontier. Many IT pros are not familiar with Android and Windows Phone 7, and it doesn’t help that Google, and more inexplicably Microsoft, are dragging their feet on device encryption.

Smartphones are now important work and play devices; busy workers want a modern personal smartphone that includes quick access to work e-mail and other work data. And IT wants a secure and easy way to give workers what they want. RIM gets it. Apple gets it. Google and Microsoft shouldn’t make it so hard.

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at