Apple Snow Leopard Is Not the Mac's Ticket to the Enterprise

Apple's new operating system, Snow Leopard, possesses features such as built-in support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 seemingly designed to give it greater appeal for enterprise and SMB (small and midsize business) users. But analysts suggest that, if Apple wants to truly gain more business market share, it will need to meet needs for service and support, among other factors.

Apple's new operating system update, Snow Leopard, possesses many features designed to streamline business use. However, analysts suggest that if Apple wants to claim a larger market share of the business community, it will likely need to take additional steps beyond even an operating system that boosts increased security and under-the-hood speed improvements.

Apple claims that Snow Leopard will perform operations such as mail-loading, initial backup of Time Machine and Web browsing on a speedier basis. It also comes integrated with an anti-malware feature and built-in support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. For the memory-conscious, Snow Leopard requires some 7GB less space on a device's hard drive than previous Mac OS X iterations.

In another bid to ensure rapid adoption, Apple is offering the operating system for existing Mac OS X Leopard users for $29. A Snow Leopard upgrade package will also be available for $9.95, for those who purchase a Mac between June 8 and Dec. 26. According to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, the reduced-price strategy could translate into 5 million copies of Snow Leopard shipped by the end of September.

However, analysts caution that those enterprises and SMBs (small and midsize businesses) looking to integrate Snow Leopard-powered Macs will need to be aware of several key factors.

"Snow Leopard does not make Macs viable for enterprises, but it will likely increase the number of users that try to bring Macs in," Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner, said in an e-mail interview with eWEEK. "Supporting Exchange natively in Mac OS will offer a more enterprise-ready capability that many users will try to take advantage of, even if the enterprise is trying to keep to Windows. Most Mac users will still need some flavor of Office, which would get them an Exchange-compatible mail client anyway."

In a separate Gartner research note, Silver and a colleague, Matthew Cain, emphasized that offering support would be key if Apple wants to increase its enterprise share.

"Apple is not addressing enterprise needs for service or support, and most organizations will continue to require Windows to run a majority of their applications," the two analysts wrote in their analysis. "Native Exchange support, which does not support Outlook personal store files (PSTs) will address only part of the user need."

"Don't assume that because Apple is making Macs easier to integrate into the enterprise, the company is entering the enterprise market," the research note continues. "Also, understand that this development will not allow Macs to easily replace Windows PCs in most cases." IT administrators should be prepared to handle an influx in the number of corporate users requesting Mac integration into their daily workflow, which in turn may require further investment in Web-oriented and service-oriented architecture in order to become more OS-neutral.

In what could be considered a bid for workers utilizing Macs in a business context, Apple has also released the Snow Leopard Server, which costs $499 and features iCal Server 2 and Address Book Server.

Apple previously declined to offer any dates or timeframes for Snow Leopard's release, but the Aug. 28 rollout seems to suggest that the company may be trying to take advantage of back-to-school computer purchasing. In addition, the release date may be an attempt to pre-empt Microsoft's Windows 7, due to launch on Oct. 22.

Media reports over the past several days have attempted a head-to-head comparison of Snow Leopard and Windows 7, although the former is considered much more of an iterative OS update. Windows 7, on the other hand, is meant to represent a major step forward for Microsoft in the areas of aesthetics and performance after the debacle of Windows Vista.

If Apple wants to gain market share within the enterprise, it faces something of an uphill battle. A report by research company Forrester in early 2009 found that the Mac adoption rate for businesses in Europe and North America had declined to 3 percent from 5 percent in 2008.

Despite its traditional lock on end-user IT infrastructure, though, Microsoft is cognizant that it needs Windows 7 to be a hit in order to help reverse a trend in declining revenues thanks to a moribund economy and reduced PC sales. A study by Deutsche Bank suggested that Windows 7 would need 12 to 18 months to achieve the same penetration levels within the enterprise as Windows XP and Windows 2000 reached in two years.