Mac Enterprise Computing: The Return of the King

The Mac was once the heir apparent to the enterprise desktop. Can it reclaim the crown?

Common wisdom and the calendar strongly suggests that Apple Computer Inc. will use this weeks Macworld Expo San Francisco to highlight the pending 20th anniversary of the Macintosh computer. (Historical purists will note that the actual anniversary date will arrive in a couple of weeks—on Jan. 24 or during the National Football Leagues Superbowl telecast, take your pick.)

Aside from the inevitable replays of Apples award-winning television ads and perhaps an historical recreation of the Macs first public demonstration (where CEO Steve Jobs persuaded the classic 128K Mac to speak), this expected return to the roots of the Mac may be played out in another way: with the return of the Mac as an enterprise computing platform.

At its release, the 128K Mac was famously touted as the computing device "for the rest of us": It was aimed at anyone who wanted a graphical desktop and wasnt ready to pony up the $12,000 for the Lisa, Apples remarkable workstation aimed at enterprise computing. Most other contemporary computing—business or otherwise—bent to the will of the command-line interface. That forbidding standard served a variety of personal computers as well as so-called minicomputers and mainframe terminals.

Despite a premium price and some technological limitations, the Mac caught on with a wide range of users, including businesses and even large enterprises. This history may be difficult to swallow for a generation weaned on Microsoft Windows and the realities of Apples current market share.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about enterprise offerings at Macworld Expo, including MacIT conference sessions, Oracle Database 10g platform for the "Panther" 10.3 version of Mac OS X.

As someone who still remembers the Macs salad days, I was heartened to hear about an expansion of the MacIT conference at Macworld Expo and about announcements of support for OS X 10.3 (a k a "Panther") from a number of enterprise-level database companies, including Oracle Corp. and Sybase Inc.

And I was, of course, buoyed by the positive reception afforded Apples 64-bit Power Macintosh G5 machines and the Panther OS.

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read an eWEEK Labs about the Power Mac G5, click here.

But when I review most of the recent hubbub surrounding Steve Jobs annual keynote address to the Macworld Expo San Francisco crowd, I cant help but notice that the enterprise theme has been drowned out by recent speculation about a low-cost, entry-level iPod music player.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about analyst and vendor conjectures about what a low-cost iPod would mean to Apple and the companys place in the MP3 player market.

What with Apples success in the player market and its strides in the retail space to make the Macintosh a "digital hub" that connects an assortment of consumer digital peripherals, its understandably difficult to discern the enterprise strategy.

But for the moment, lets forget iPods and all the consumer-market distraction. Heres a brief list of some of the announcements, Id like to hear from Apple officials at this weeks Expo:

  • A clearly delineated enterprise strategy for clients and servers alike. Who are the customers for Apple in the enterprise and among small- and mid-sized businesses? And what can these key customers expect from the company now and in the future?
  • Real compatibility solutions for enterprise-standard platforms—specifically, Windows and Lotus Notes services. When will Apple really focus on providing compatibility with Windows services where it counts? Were talking complete compatibility with Exchange Server. Small extensions to Mail and Address Book just dont cut it.
  • Improved handling of JavaScript and Microsoft scripting in Web pages. How many more times will IT managers straight-arm the Mac because its support for these technologies is unequal to the rigors of enterprise applications?
  • A G5 Xserve. IBM has already stolen a march on Apple with its announcement of a PowerPC 970-based blade server. Considering that Apples desktop line is six months and two generations old, its long past time that Apple bring its server platform up to speed.

/zimages/1/28571.gifApple observers and vendors offered some thoughts about what theyd like to see in a PPC G5-based Xserve. To read about it, click here.

Apples admirable efforts in the consumer market have set off an echo effect among the tech-conscious. Maybe this week, Apple will look beyond this consumer beachhead to reclaim its historical territory among CIOs. West Coast Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the Mac market and storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

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