Microsoft and Apple have announced that they are working together to make Exchange Server and the iPhone mobile phone work well together. Apple will license Exchange ActiveSync for use on the iPhone, which will in Turn help assure the Exchange Server dominance in the marketplace stays they way it is. It’s really as simple as that.

The fact is that Exchange is a pretty terrific server product for email, calendaring, and a lot more. The iPhone is a pretty terrific mobile device. They don’t integrate too terribly well today: You can sync your calendar and contacts via the USB connection to your computer, and you can get IMAP email from a properly-configured Exchange server (which works, but is not exactly optimal). But it’s far from simple, far from seamless, and far from supportable in the enterprise.

One has to wonder what this means, either directly or indirectly, for the Windows Mobile world. I know the arguments: Different markets, different platforms, different purposes, etc. etc. etc… but with the iPhone SDK availability, that gap will be much narrower. And the fact of the matter is, Apple has the usability nailed with the iPhone. Sure, there’s a few enhancements needed. But those are ones that can (and I’m certain will) be done.

ActiveSync will provide the ability (assuming Apple leverages all the features) to do push email, calendar and contact sync over the air, and task list sync.

Perhaps one of the more important potential benefits from ActiveSync integration with the iPhone is the ability to get enterprise-class security on the device, which to date is lacking and doesn’t meet the needs or standards of most commercial IT departments. Exchange 2007 clients can be set up for enforced enterprise IT “policies” or controls, which would go a long way toward satisfying the security needs. In my mind, that’s the biggest potential win. Without that, pushing email and syncing calendars and contacts is to risky an activity.

From Apple’s press release come details of what they intend to provide – and it looks liek Cisco VPNs are in the package, as well:

Apple has licensed Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft and is building it right into the iPhone, so that iPhone will connect out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007 for secure over-the-air push email, contacts, calendars and global address lists. Built-in Exchange ActiveSync support also enables security features such as remote wipe, password policies and auto-discovery. The iPhone 2.0 software supports Cisco IPsec VPN to ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data, as well as the ability to authenticate using digital certificates or password-based, multi-factor authentication. The addition of WPA2 Enterprise with 802.1x authentication enables enterprise customers to deploy iPhone and iPod touch with the latest standards for protection of Wi-Fi networks.

The iPhone 2.0 software provides a configuration utility that allows IT administrators to easily and quickly set up many iPhones, including password policies, VPN setting, installing certificates, email server settings and more. Once the configuration is defined it can be easily and securely delivered via web link or email to the user. To install, all the user has to do is authenticate with a user ID or password, download the configuration and tap install. Once installed, the user will have access to all their corporate IT services.

Good move Apple. Good move Microsoft. Looking forward to this one!