As Apple Computer reaches the 30-year mark as a successful consumer electronics company, Macs are better integrated in enterprise systems than ever before. But if the enterprise market is paying attention, it isnt expressing this with large Mac purchases. Its also not evident how much Apple cares.
Despite big gains in compatibility with Windows networks, acceptance is hampered by a scarcity of vertical software available for the platform, by a lack of knowledge by IT staff of what todays Mac is capable of, and by a certain lack of attention by Apple.
“What Apple provides is good, but not good enough for the enterprise,” said Tom Kemp, CEO of Centrify, a Mountain View, Calif., company that makes Active Directory integration tools for Mac and Linux clients. “If the Mac is going to succeed in enterprise, it has to plug in easily into the existing infrastructure.”
Active Directory support is one of the most important areas of enterprise integration, an area in which Apple has made big improvements in recent years. Mac OS X provides single-log-on authentication with Active Directory, allowing users to log on to the network once to gain access to many services.
Administrators can also set up server-based home directories for Mac users, and configure permissions using Access Control Lists.
“The ability to plug into Active Directory was a huge step forward,” said Charles Edge, partner and lead engineer for 318, a Santa Monica, Calif., consulting firm that integrates Macs into enterprise systems.
But there are still holes in Apples Active Directory support, holes partially filled by products like Centrify and AdMitMac from Thursby Software. These products add integration features and dont require networks to run Mac OS X Server. Apple server software uses a version of the open-source Open Directory.
“People in organizations of 2,000 or 3,000 employees want to fully integrate Open Directory with Active Directory,” Edge said. “Apple hasnt fully done it, but has come up with the golden triangle strategy.”
The “golden triangle” strategy uses a Mac OS X Server on the enterprise network. The Mac clients run plug-ins for both Active Directory and the LDAP protocol. The Mac client authenticates with Active Directory while getting managed group settings from the Mac OS X Server.
Edge said he thinks that the requirement to run Mac OS X Server to support Macs has not been too much of a burden, as it comes with a bundle of other features, including unlimited e-mail client support, spam filters and a lot of Unix software.
“At $1,000 a seat, OS X Server makes a pretty compelling argument as a server,” Edge said. “In the enterprise, people are using OS X Server as a file server for the Macs. Currently, the graphics designers are using Macs to build Web sites, so when they go to host, they go with Mac servers.”
“Rarely do you see Mac servers employed as an intranet server or that kind of thing,” Edge said.
Macs Need More Ported
Overcoming the burden of not being Windows is not entirely up to Apple. The Macs dependence on third-party developers is acutely felt when the Mac functions as an Exchange client.
Marchs 11.2.3 update of Microsoft Exchange 2004 added important features, including the ability to sync calendars and contacts with Mac OS Xs built-in Address Book and iCal programs.
But Microsofts Entourage still doesnt have the features available to Outlook for Windows, including the support of the Microsoft MAPI (Messaging API) protocol. And performance remains a problem.
“Compared to Entourage X [the previous version], the current Entourage is great. Compared to Outlook, its a lousy Exchange client,” Edge said. “If youre looking at a lot of messages, youre looking at a lot of beach balls.”
The spinning beach ball cursor is the Mac equivalent of the Windows hourglass, indicating an unresponsive application.
There are also holes that third parties dont fill, mostly in the areas of vertical applications and in-house Web-based applications.
The problem of the lack of software is a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Having more applications running on Macs would enable companies to deploy more Macs, which, in turn, would increase the incentive for developers to port software to the Mac. But Apple isnt doing much to change the status quo.
“Apple doesnt cater to the enterprise market,” Edge said. “It makes really good computers, and if enterprises want to use it, thats okay with Apple. I cant image Apple co-funding companies to make a Mac client.”
One way Mac users have been able to get around this problem is through the use of Microsofts Virtual PC to run Windows software not available to Mac OS X. Because Virtual PC emulates an x86 processor, performance is not good, but Virtual PC does do Windows networking well.
Paradoxically, the Intel Macs currently have less functionality at running Windows than the PowerPC Macs. Thats because Microsofts Virtual PC doesnt run on the Intel Macs. Although there is now a hack for booting Windows natively on the Intel Macs, it doesnt have the support for the Macs hardware and peripherals that is found in Virtual PC on PowerPC Macs.
In January, Microsoft indicated interest in porting Virtual PC to Intel Macs, but did not announce a schedule. But with Apple now becoming a member of BAPCO (Business Applications Performance), an industry Windows benchmarking group, it looks like Apple may be working on its own Windows virtualization environment.
Perception is everything
One thing that Macs have going for them is a reputation for being better from a security standpoint. Apple frequently releases security patches, including two in the month of March; but except for the recent low-risk Leap-A virus, Mac OS X malware hasnt appeared.
However, bad experiences die hard. Part of the problem of getting the Mac into the enterprise has to do with memories of old incompatibles and the traffic-inducing AppleTalk protocol, which the Cupertino, Calif., company has successful phased out.
“Legacy IT staff sees an Apple computer as messing up their network, bringing down performance of the network,” Edge said. “Its a lack of education from IT staff thats holding it back.”
Edge said he thinks that Apples transition to Intel processors could change the misperceptions. Replacing the PowerPC processor for an Intel processor doesnt solve the problems of network compatibility, but it does add a certain amount of trust to the platform. Its a touchy-feely perception of a brand image, the kind of feeling that Apple has been successful at exploiting during the past 30 years.
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