Apple’s MobileMe Service: No Linux For You

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I have a first generation Apple iPhone and on the 11th of July I downloaded the version 2.0 software via iTunes. I had been reading about the iPhone’s new 2.0 software functions and the MobileMe service and was eager to try them out.

We currently have a Microsoft Exchange 2003 infrastructure and I was curious to see how the MobileMe service stacked up against it. I should also mention that we are switching all our infrastructure out for Linux desktops and servers. We already dual boot all of our workstations between Ubuntu and Windows XP Pro. Most computers are now upgraded to VirtualBox on Ubuntu and so we can still use some applications that need Windows.

Although I am comparing MobileMe with Microsoft Exchange Server, I should also point out that we are evaluating other Exchange replacements which are Linux based. On our short list are: Scalix, Zimbra and Open Xchange. So far we seem to be leaning towards Scalix, however Zimbra is also strong in the running.

We are also well into replacing Microsoft Office with Open Office. So far there have not been any problems for us to use all our existing Microsoft Office documents with Open Office. As our preferred email client we have been using Evolution as the replacement for Microsoft Outlook.

So back to the iPhone and MobileMe evaluation.
Since we have a Exchange infrastructure available I first tried setting up a iPhone to connect to the Exchange Server. Even though the iPhone reports that it has connected to our Exchange Server we were unable to get email to or from the iPhone. After looking up Apple’s documentation they indicate a front end server implementation with a ISA server. That’s more infrastructure than we have, and I presume also more infrastructure than most small businesses with Windows Small Business Server Edition setups.
After several unsuccessful attempts I gave up. I did not want to spend a day on this since our Exchange Server’s days are numbered.

So I decided at this point to connect the iPhone to the MobileMe service and try their push technology. Unfortunately this was also unsuccessful and although no errors were reported in the MobileMe control panel applet no contact nor calendar data has been synced to the MobileMe cloud server.

I figured this may be due to the fact that the Microsoft Outlook user profile I used was still connected to the Exchange Server so I created a new Windows XP user profile and a new Microsoft Outlook user profile that did not connect to the Exchange Server. I imported only the contact and calendar data from a PST file backup and did the over ride sync in the advanced preferences in the MobileMe control panel applet.

Voila. I was able to get the contacts to sync to the MobileMe web application. However when I tried to open the calendar on the MobileMe service I got this error:

Calendar Error
MobileMe Calendar could not start because it was unable to load any calendars from the server. Try reloading Calendar. If this problem persists, contact MobileMe Support.

We get this error every time we try to open the calendar in the MobileMe service. I have reported this several times to Apple’s online support, however even though we get a message stating we will receive a reply within 48 hours we have yet to hear back from Apple.

Now all this testing was done from a computer booted into Windows XP Pro. It was time I got to the meat and tested these systems from a Ubuntu Linux system since this is the new infrastructure we are implementing.

The testing on the MobileMe service from Ubuntu turned out to be a very brief experiment. It seems Apple no likey Linux because if you go to the Me.com web site from Firefox 3 on Ubuntu you get this:

mobileme_on_ubuntu_error-sm

I have to say, this is very disappointing. I do not see any reason why MobileMe’s Me.com can work with Firefox 3 on Windows (and presumable Mac) and not on Firefox 3 on Ubuntu. I believe that a browser is a browser and this is contra to the ubiquitous computing holy grail that the technology sector has been preaching for years.

What also surprises me is that I did not hear this anywhere already. You would think that this glaring inoperability would be noted somewhere in the media. It seems that in the shock and awe that has accompanied the iPhone 3G rollout, nobody, including Apple, really tested these systems thoroughly. Clearly the MobileMe service is not ready for prime time. It is very very slow and when you do get it to work it makes your iPhone very laggy because anytime you open your contacts on the iPhone you will be waiting 5 to 15 seconds while it seems to be checking in with the contacts on the cloud Apple servers. This is really unacceptable.

Although not a bug, a feature that is glaringly missing from the MobileMe service is the ability for a organization to use their existing domain name. If Apple wants to attract businesses to this service they will need to be able to use their own branded email addresses instead of the username @ me.com MobileMe service email addresses. Google does provide this capability with their Google Apps platform.

Conclusion

I believe that MobileMe is a really great concept. I expect that the mad rush of iPhone sales has overwhelmed Apple’s expectations and caused for one a serious strain on the servers that run the MobileMe service. I also believe that as Apple treads more and more into Microsoft Windows territory they are learning that no two PC’s are configured the same and this is very different than what you will find in Mac land where the hardware is more similar from machine to machine.

If Apple gets the MobileMe service to run smoother and increase the performance while they fix the initial bugs in the synchronization, they will be providing a terrific infrastructure service at a reasonable price point for small to mid-sized businesses.

Ten Years West-Age Web Services

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Ten Years West-Age Web Services

A few friends have asked me to elaborate on this a bit because they know West-Age Web Services has been around about 17 years. I have decided I should write a bit of history about this and will publish it soon.

Project File: Grants Pass Properties

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West-Age Web Services announced today the launch of Grants Pass Properties, grantspass-properties.com, a property listing web site targeted at independent real estate agents, real estate brokers and small to mid-sized property management companies.

The Grants Pass Properties web site presents an attractive look and user friendly navigation allowing the web sites visitors to easily find properties that meet their search criteria. Currently there are four categories of property listings:

  • Houses
  • Apartments
  • Commercial Property
  • Retail Property

Site visitors may also post “Wanted” requests for a property with the criteria and specifications that they are seeking. These requests are visible to registered agents in order for them to assist the buyer in locating the desired property.

There are two main parts to the Grants Pass Properties web site. The front end publicly facing component that presents the listings and acts as the interface for site visitors. Then there is the back end where registered agents and registered customers interact with each other. This is where the real power lies in the product as it provides a common communications mechanism between agents and buyers. Agents may optionally enable SMS alerts in their user control panel that will allow the system to automatically notify them of new listings or inquiries to one of their existing listings.

grants-pass-properties-listings

There are several additional modules under development that will be added to the Grants Pass Properties project. One of which is a rental management module that will allow property managers and independent property owners with summer/winter rental properties to manage their properties. This module presents the rental property in a publicized listing with a calendar indicating availability. The rental owner or agent will be able to manage their customers and property availability and pricing via their personal control panel.
Estimated launch for the rental management module is summer 2008.

To celebrate the web site launch Grants Pass Properties will be giving away 30 day free listings to real estate agents, real estate brokers, property managers and home owners wishing to advertise for sale by owner listings. All listings can include up to 12 images each.

For further questions or inquiries please visit the contact us page on the Grants Pass Properties web site located at grantspass-properties.com