Apple Developer Conference Has Enterprising Aims

Coffee: With established users moved to OS X, Mac can get back to business after decade of distraction.

This weeks Worldwide Developers Conference, hosted by Apple in San Francisco, introduces an Enterprise IT track in addition to more familiar Macintosh material like graphics and hardware. Enterprise track subtopics include Java development and system administration, as well as sessions more specific to Apples application frameworks.

Apples Java commitment, like Suns new Java.Net forum for Java developer collaboration, is hardly surprising. When its almost as easy to deliver an attractive, high-function application in Java as it is with a Windows-specific technology, Windows loses some of its famous "application barrier to entry"--and other desktop options have a fighting chance.

As for the subtrack on system administration, many will dismiss the idea of Apple becoming their enterprise platform provider. This would be a mistake: The combination of OS X and the Xserve hardware is more than merely competitive, and the platforms portfolio of enterprise applications continues to grow. Now that QuarkXPress is finally making its move to OS X, the migration of Apples installed base of loyal users and their companies is arguably complete, and the company can afford to devote its energies to expanding beyond that base.

This is the long-overdue continuation of a story that began almost 20 years ago. Before Apple developed its nearly fatal case of multiple product line disorder, the Macintosh platform was on a promising course toward offering exceptional opportunities for developers.

In my own case, it was 1987 when I made a career move out of corporate PC planning into AI applications research: One of my co-workers said that I was looking for a job that would guarantee my getting the fastest PC in the company. I began my new assignment on a personal Lisp machine, a Symbolics workstation whose annual maintenance agreement cost more than the purchase price of what was then a top-of-the-line 386-based PC.

Within a few months, we had slashed development costs with pilot projects on 386 machines with RISC co-processor boards. And even this was only a transitional step: Within the year, I was doing most of my work on a Macintosh SE with ExperCommonLisp, one of several surprisingly advanced object-oriented development environments that were then available for the Macintosh.

When I built an adaptive data analysis tool that ran on a mass-market Mac, one of my new co-workers said that it was the first time hed seen a Lisp application that we could actually deploy to other departments. But this was when surface fluff like HyperCard, rather than foundation stuff like a real operating system with robust multitasking, seized Apples attention for a few crucial years of missed opportunity. Unix workstations, OS/2 PCs and variations of Windows soon left MacOS far behind as a credible place to do mission-critical work.

OS X finally brings the foundation up to snuff. Java may not be Lisp, but its still a language that doesnt get in the way of thinking about the problem. And Apples talent for hardware integration is clearly as strong as ever.

Welcome back, Mac.

Tell me if Apple looks like a fruitful enterprise option for you.