With the latest iPhone commercial hitting the airwaves touting the incredible Mail app, Stock Reader and otherwise catering to a business user, a lot of focus on the web in the last 24 hours has been the iPhone’s ability (or inability in some people’s eyes) to handle Microsoft Exchange Server.

We use Exchange 2007 where I work (and I administer Exchange so I can’t blame anyone but myself) and getting it to work on the iPhone or Mail.app on  the Mac has been a bit of a hassle.  I get the “The message from XXXXX concerning YYYYY has not been downloaded from the server. You need to take this account online in order to download it.” message that also frequently occurs on Mail.app on the Macintosh.

The problem is that mail doesn’t get pulled from IMAP sometimes and won’t come through until other mail “pushes” it through.  Sometimes repeated restarts help.  I blame Exchange’s IMAP implementation for this as I have two other IMAP accounts working flawlessly on it and the iPhone support pages are alight with similar complaints.  However, because my Exchange email is the most important, (yes, I am a wage slave – the trust fund from the far off relative hasn’t kicked in just yet) I need results.  Also, iCal and Addressbook don’t synch with Exchange (yet) and I often find myself in need of these features.

read on for more screenshots and info….

iphone exchange

So I turn to the Outlook Webmail client.  And you know what?  It really isn’t that bad!  As a matter of fact, props to Microsoft for their Web 2.0 SDK work.  Maybe the Microsoft Live initiative will be a competitor afterall.  The combination of Exchange’s almost complete messaging (lite for non IE browsers) web client and Apple’s Safari Browser might be the best way to experience Exchange on a mobile device.  Even over EDGE or GSM, my mail page pops up very quickly and is very responsive.  The spell check is done on the back end as is the addressbook lookups and the calendar invites.  So, when I return to my desktop, all my changes are propagated properly (take that Exchange POP3 users!)  

The obvious issue is when I am out of Wifi or EDGE/GSM range and have no cached email to go back to.   I am then stuck using iPhone Mail.app to write emails to be sent later.  And even for all of Microsoft’s work, the Outlook Web client still isn’t as beautiful as Apple’s mail – and probably won’t ever be.

At some point in the future, Microsoft and Apple will probably figure out this IMAP issue and might even get Addressbook and iCal talking to Exchange properly.  I can wait, however, as my email setup has arrived.

iPhone exchange

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