Apple Owes the Enterprise a Better Client

By John Rizzo  |  Posted 2005-01-05

Apple Owes the Enterprise a Better Client

As Apple heads into Macworld Expo, a lot of the buzz focuses on Apple, the pop consumer company. Much is made of the fact that a quarter of Apples revenue recently came from the iPod and the online music store.

Of course, this leaves the remaining three-quarters of Apples revenue coming from Macintosh-related business, which the company shows no signs of giving up without a fight.

Apple also isnt content with the home market. This week it attempted to expand its foothold in the enterprise arena with a pair of pre-Expo announcements, the new Xsan 64-bit cluster file system, and the beefed-up Xserve G5. Both are feature-filled, competitively priced server products.

Click here to read the latest on Xsan and Xserve.

But so far, all is quiet on the client front. Apple has not said much about Windows compatibility in its Tiger client since it introduced the next-generation operating system last May.

When you talk to enterprise managers, it isnt Apple servers they need. For administrators of enterprise networks, Mac clients still need special care that isnt required with Windows clients.

Apple will need a client that is a good enterprise citizen if it is going to expand its market share. The extra effort required to support Macs is a disincentive for managers to bring in Macs—and a reason to get rid of them.

Heres what Apple needs in 2005 to beef up its enterprise client.

1. An Exchange Server MAPI client for Mac
Mac OS 9 had a decent Exchange client in Outlook 2001. It wasnt perfect but was close to being on par with the Windows version.

Unfortunately, Microsoft never created an Outlook for Mac OS X. In February 2003, the Mac Business Unit dropped Outlook for Mac in favor of integrating groupware functionality into the already existing Entourage X.

Microsoft Entourage X 10.1.4 was a big disappointment to IS managers. It doesnt support Exchange Servers native MAPI protocol used by Exchange for calendar and address book functions. Entourage requires the use of IMAP for e-mail and WebDAV and LDAP for scheduling and contacts.

With Entourage 2004, it is possible to access the Exchange Server global address list without WebDAV enabled on Exchange Server. A third-party product, Snerdwares AddressX ($25) allows access to the Exchange Global Address List from the OS X Address Book.

But by not supporting MAPI, Entourage still requires special treatment from IS managers, and has plenty of compatibility problems.

This is one issue that at face value is beyond Apples control. But so was the creation of Office for Mac OS X at one point. Apple seemed to have worked that one out.

2. A more robust SMB file-sharing client
An SMB file-sharing client has been part of Mac OS X for a long time, but still has problems. The problems arent always universal, but are widely reported on discussion forums. For instance, there was a problem in which aliases to SMB shares break, another in which users couldnt delete or move folders on SMB servers, and another widely reported problem of SMB client failing to work altogether.

Click here to read more about lack of Windows integration in OS X.

These are often temporary problems caused by a particular Mac OS X upgrade, often fixed in a later upgrade. But as often as Panther updates fix problems, new ones appear. Users and IS managers often come up with their own hacks and workarounds, but the overall experience is often one of a fragile SMB client.

Next Page: Limited support for SMB home directories.

Limited support for SMB

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3. Better integration with Active Directory
Panther made strides in integrating Macs with Microsoft Active Directory, but there are still holes, particularly with secure authentication methods. Panthers LDAP authentication uses a Kerberos implementation that is not as secure as that between Windows clients and Active Directory, or that created by Thursby Softwares AdmitMac. It also does not support NTLMv2.

Active Directory configuration of Macs can also be a chore. Its easiest with a Mac OS X Server on the network. Without it, the procedures can require special training of network managers.

4. SMB home directories working with Windows domains
Support of home folders located on SMB servers is a feature that Apple claims is already in Panther. Apple has also promised that SMB home folders will be a new feature in Tiger. So which is it?

The answer is that there is limited support in Panther. You can do it fairly easily if there is a Mac OS X Server on the network, but the procedure isnt easy without a Mac server. It requires rather obscure changes using NetInfo Manager or using commands run from a shell in Terminal.

5. Access Control Lists
Sites that do run Mac servers need ACL (Access Control Lists) support in Mac OS X Server. ACLs are an important feature of Windows Servers that gives administrators and users far more flexible file permissions than the simple read-write-execute of Mac OS X.

For example, ACLs would let Mac server managers specify user and group permissions for creating and modifying files and folders as well as for accessing network services. Windows servers and Unix servers such as Sun Solaris have supported ACLs for years.

Apple has promised ACL support for Tiger Server, but the question remains whether Tiger Servers ACL implementation will work in a cross-platform environment. That is, will Mac clients be controlled by ACLs on Windows servers? They will need to be.

So far, Apple has been focusing on server dreams—and big ones at that. For instance, part of Apples promotion of Xserve and Xsan calls attention to the use of Xserve clusters in multimillion-dollar super-computer arrays rather than the enterprise use of clusters. As much as Apple would like to fill $3 million Xserve orders, it probably isnt going to happen very often.

Enterprise managers will be waiting for client improvements at Macworld Expo in San Francisco next week. I dont expect Steve Jobs to trumpet MAPI, NTLMv2, and ACL in between flash-based iPods and headless iMacs, but compatibility announcements will be important for that 75 percent of Apples revenue.

John Rizzo is the publisher of the MacWindows Web site.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on Apple in the enterprise.

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