Research in Motion turned an army of executives at big enterprises into mobile e-mail addicts with its BlackBerry handhelds. Now it wants to do the same thing for users in much smaller companies.

RIM has announced a revamped and re-priced version of its BlackBerry server software for small to midsize companies. The new version supports double the users of the previous release and costs about half as much. RIM engineers simplified the setup process for these customers, which usually lack dedicated IT staff, by devising a set of ready-to-use templates and wizards.

The new BlackBerry Professional software will replace the company’s previous offering for this market, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server SMB Edition. For existing customers of the SMB Edition, RIM is offering a free upgrade.

RIM hopes to exploit both its brand name recognition and what it says is strong demand in the SMB market for secure, affordable wireless e-mail, a demand frustrated by a lack of well-known offerings. Microsoft has its own push-e-mail offering as part of Exchange server for Microsoft-based handhelds, but doesn’t have a dedicated SMB product. That’s just one factor that drives ongoing speculation that Microsoft might be interested in buying RIM. Motorola earlier this year finalized its purchase of mobile e-mail vendor Good Technology, which is now, with the Symbol Technologies acquisition, a key part of Motorola’s Enterprise Mobility Solutions division.

Internal research by RIM found that 78% of SMB users are interested in using wireless e-mail, says Alan Panezic, vice president of software product development for RIM. The study identified four key criteria: a US$500 to $1,000 price range; extremely easy deployment and operation; deployable on an existing mail server such as Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft Small Business Server; and rock-solid security. BlackBerry Professional is designed to meet each of them, Panezic says.

RIM has been expanding an array of options for SMB users. The BlackBerry Internet Server is a hosted solution that makes use of popular IMAP and POP3 Web e-mail services from AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google and others. Supporting up to 10 e-mail accounts, it’s aimed at individuals and small offices. The BlackBerry Unite! Software supports up to five Web e-mail accounts. It’s a free software download and includes functions such as calendar/scheduling, file sharing and remote file access.

RIM’s capstone offering had been the Small Business Edition of the enterprise BlackBerry software. But it had to be installed on a dedicated server, an added cost for SMB users. And its dense array of configuration and policy choices was bewildering to companies that lacked dedicated IT expertise, Panezic says.

By contrast, the new BlackBerry Professional can be installed on a company’s existing e-mail server. And you don’t need an IT professional to do it, Panezic says. A new “pre-installation” tool gives users a checklist of hardware and other requirements that have to be set or changed for the software installation. The software user interface was simplified, eliminating features and options that are not needed for single-server deployment.

Customers now can review a set of policy templates, select the one that best fits their business requirements, and the policies are applied automatically. New wizards guide users through tasks like adding new users. The software documentation has been completely redesigned around this same task model: It’s easier for users to find out how to add a new service, or change a user’s configuration.

RIM also changed its tech support model. During set up and installation, users can call a free tech support number as often as needed until BlackBerry Professional is up and running.

Finally, it’s far more affordable than the previous offering: $499 for up to five users, $849 for up to 10. At about 50% less than in the past, “it’s a pretty substantial cut,” Panezic says.

As with the SMB Edition, the new software is easily upgradeable, via a software key and an additional fee, to the full BlackBerry Enterprise Server product.

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