With the server configured, the next step is to get it talking to a handheld or two. Putting the software onto the mobile device is pretty straightforward, with two options – you can either do it attached via USB, or completely wirelessly using an Over The Air (OTA) setup facility. I used the latter and found installation really easy, simply a matter of generating an OTA PIN within the Good management console (which gets emailed to you), then on the handheld pointing the web browser at https://get.good.com, which autodetects your device type and presents the appropriate client software for download. The way the PIN is handled is nice – two versions are generated, one purely numeric for QWERTY-less smartphones and a shorter alphanumeric one for devices with keyboards. The Good system is full of thoughtful little touches like that.
Another really neat feature is that you can have several handhelds all pointed at the same mailbox, all staying fully in sync with the Exchange account and with each other. This is a facility that BlackBerry users have been crying out for in various online forums, and because of it I was able to try Good on two separate devices during my month’s test – a Nokia E61 Symbian device and a Palm 750V Windows Mobile handset.
I’d like to recap a little at this point about the way that push email operates on handheld devices. There seem to be two schools of thought, the first being to offer a complete client environment, perhaps best typified by a BlackBerry phone where the device itself is that environment. Good operates this way too: download the Good client software onto the handheld and all interaction (email, calendar and so on) is performed within that client. The other approach is that taken by BlackBerry Connect (the version of BlackBerry for non-RIM hardware, which I’ll be looking at next month), where the push-email software is merely a conduit that feeds user data into the standard applications (email, calendar) that came with the handheld. Both options have pros and cons. A uniform client environment like Good’s means you can switch from, say, a Symbian phone to a Windows Mobile phone and find that your email works exactly the same way – nothing new to learn, screen layouts are identical and keyboard shortcuts all work the same. On the other hand, for users who are already familiar with the built-in applications of their phone, loading up a copy of Good requires them to learn it all from scratch, a problem neatly avoided by “conduit” systems. That said, the Good client is pretty intuitive, so the learning curve isn’t particularly steep.
The application is full of keyboard shortcuts that, once learned, are a real godsend. There are a couple of other advantages to keeping all the data self-contained within an application. First, it means that emails and other data can be kept encrypted at all times; second, it avoids what’s known as the “cradle security” problem, where someone has a nice secure wirelessly synchronised email system at work, but then goes home and stuffs the phone into a cradle connected to their spyware-ridden PC. This problem is rife in the Windows Mobile world.
The way that Good handles email attachments is pretty good too. With Microsoft’s system, you just download the whole document to view it, while BlackBerry gives you a server-generated page-by-page preview, but Good gives you the choice of either. So if someone emails you a multi-megabyte Word document, you can quickly check through it using the preview facility, then if you spot anything that needs updating you can download the full document. It’s the best of both worlds.