Thursday, May 15, 2008

BlackBerry Unite!

Download it from Bell.

Is this a micro Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) or just Blackberry Desktop Redirector on steroids? The ability to connect up to five Blackberries to a single Internet connected PC, share calendar, contacts, photos and documents seems like a handy thing to have. Add onto this the ability to control the use of the smart phone, browsing, phone use and the like and it seems like a small piece of heaven for a small office administrator or family trying to stay connected and secure in the twenty first century. Are there any families out there (besides the Hiltons) who all have their own Blackberries?

The first thing I noticed was that the WAP and Internet browsers are both gone, replaced by a Unite! browser. There is a weired behavior with the IT policy that requires you edit and accept all your book marks but once done browsing seems to work well. I don't have my BlackBerry tied to a BES, but the documentation covers using Unite! and BES on the same BlackBerry. So what have I done by installing Unite! and binding my BlackBerry? I loaded up WireShark to see what traffic was going through the machine. Since Unite! runs on a windows box you will want to set up a display filter to hide a lot of the chatter. I used:

tcp and not msnms

I did some web browsing from my BlackBerry, the resulting packet display clearly indicates that the Unite! browser funnels all traffic through the Unite! server. This of course is how it can manage and control web browsing activity on the manage devices, but what if that isn't what I really want? I will have to look into this in greater detail later.

In the mean time I have a number of Email addresses set up through Blackberry Internet Service (BIS). The Unite! system allowed me to set up an additional address. So how is this traffic routed. Time to send some test messages and see. For messages sent from the BlackBerry to a completely unrelated address I have the following results:

  • The default BIS address - no traffic through Unite! server

  • GMail account set up on BIS - no traffic through Unite! server

  • Third party IMAP account - no traffic through Unite! server

  • Unite! account - traffic goes through Unite! server

This is what I expected for email traffic. What this means is that in the event that the computer running the Unite! server fails, you can expect BIS messages will still be delivered. Quite a good set up I think, it gives the best of both worlds and would allow a small business or family to run a completely private mail server if they had the knowledge and desire. But what about web browsing?

Having a browser that accesses the net through the Unite! server is definitely an advantage. One could set up a private web to match that private Email. The ability to keep business or family information secure, but also available to members on the go is the foundation that the RIM empire is based on. But is it worth giving up direct access to the Web? I don't think so, but is there anything that can be done? A check of my BlackBerry service books shows Blackberry Internet Service BrowserConfig is still loaded and active. It turns out that the IT policy installed by Unite! disables these other browsers. There is a solution, this thread on Unite ITPolicy modifications has instructions on modifying the policy to allow several great things. So, let's give it at try.

Since I don't have Microsoft SQL Management Server I installed SQL Server Management Studio Express. This needed the .NET framework, so I installed that first, a straight forward but long process. While that was going on I fetched the file.

Follow the instructions from the Blackberry Forums article, it worked exactly as advertised. It even changed the name of the Unite! browser to BlackberryBrowser. Sweet!

If you want to go back to the way your BlackBerry was before Unite!, removing the IT policy afterwards seems a bit draconian, so think carefully and do a complete backup first.

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