Even as Microsoft Corp. winds up the long pitch for its next-generation operating system, called Longhorn, Apple Computer Inc. Friday evening will release Mac OS X 10.3, a k a Panther, an update focused on improved compatibility with the current flavors of Windows.
Apple points to more than 150 new features in Panther. Although many of these additions are aimed at the end user, a large number of changes in both client and server versions are targeted at enterprise customers, said Brian Croll, a senior director of product marketing for software at Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple.
One major advantage Panther has over competing operating systems, Croll said, is its adherence to open standards—long a rallying point for Linux supporters, especially against Windows. In addition to its support for Java 2 Platform Version 1.4.1, Panther also will improve its implementation of X11, Croll said. The windowing system is now bundled into the Mac OS and can access OS Xs native Quartz engine, allowing for accelerated graphics. Panther will also include Kerberos; Network File System (NFS); and ipV6 "built in" at the OS level, he said.
Croll said a major focus in the development of Panther was to streamline its integration into heterogeneous networks of Unix, Windows and Mac desktops and servers. The goal, he said, was to make adding a Mac a matter of "plugging it in," without requiring special administration at the server level.
For example, Croll said, Panther will support NFS and Apple Filing Protocol directories and will allow direct browsing of SMB files and servers within the Mac Finder. Jaguar offered a more complex method of connecting through the Connect to Server ... command. Panther users will also be able to host a home directory on a SMB network, Croll said, even in the client version.
Expanded SMB support will be a welcome step up from the previous version of the OS, called Jaguar, said John Rizzo, editor of the MacWindows Web site, which focuses on Mac and Windows compatibility issues.
"Jaguar had many bugs with SMB sharing," Rizzo said; he noted that Apple had blamed many of them on conflicts with third-party software. File corruption had been a show-stopping problem, he said.
Meanwhile, for the server version of Panther, Croll said, Samba 3 support will add domain controllers for legacy networks that include Windows NT servers. As a result, Croll said, users will be able to have a single home directory that they will be able to access whether they are logged into a Mac or a Windows desktop.
In addition, Panther will include Active Directory integration, complete with authentication, obviating the need for editing registries on Windows servers, Croll said.
Also new to Panther, Croll said, are improved VPN support via IPSec rather than PPTP, and a limited ability to use Apples Mail and Address Book applications as Exchange clients. "One of the interesting milestones with Panther is the ability to plug into everything," Croll said.
According to Rizzo, "the lack of a decent OS X client for Exchange" has been a major complaint with Jaguar and looks to remain unresolved with the Panther update. Though the Mail and Address Book programs will connect to Exchange servers—a capability currently supported by a recent update to Microsoft Entourage X for Mac— Mac users still wont be able to share scheduling and other resources. Rizzo said users requiring greater compatibility must still resort to using Outlook 2001, which runs only in the Classic environment.
Meanwhile, Croll answered question about how Apple can make inroads into enterprise markets it has not traditionally had a strong presence.
"Enterprise switching happens [one] market at a time," he said, offering as an example the science and biotechnology fields, where Mac OS X has been making strong inroads thanks to its ability to run most Unix applications. These markets also have an affinity for open-source solutions. (Though Mac OS X is proprietary, it rests atop Darwin, an open-source FreeBSD implementation).
In addition, Croll said that Mac OS X is now being well received in the government market, with its standards support and security providing the operating system strong selling points. He expected that many of these systemic concerns will translate well to large corporations.
"What points to the future is technologists at conferences carrying PowerBooks," Croll said, observing that such spontaneous showings of Apple products by industry bellwethers act like the product placement in media entertainment, and can help spur wider adoption. He also remarked on the strong "grass roots" movement to adopt the Mac OS among open-source crowds, which could spur inclusion in corporate IT environments.
Croll declined to compare Panther to the still-embryonic Longhorn, which Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is expected to showcase at next weeks Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.
Croll observed that the only comparison he could address was that Panther "is shipping on Friday." Observers say Microsofts next-generation OS wont ship until 2006.