The feature list of Apple Computers forthcoming Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard, may be considered a state secret down at the companys Infinite Loop headquarters. At the same time, eWEEK readers have a strong sense of what Apple could do in its next OS upgrade to help the small and midsize business customer.
In a recent column, I offered a range of new features and targets for strengthening the OS, including better support for Microsoft Exchange, improved virtualization for Windows (beyond Boot Camp), refinement of the Spotlight desktop search engine introduced in the current Tiger version of the OS, easier scripting with the Automator environment, and a host of fixes to the Finder and the networking stack.
Here are a few ideas from the Mac community brain trust:
Joel Ingulsrud, a senior product manager at Adobe Systems, pointed to current shortcomings in Portable Home Directories, a feature of the OS X Tiger Server. He said the tool should be made more robust and easier to set up in Leopard.
“Portable Home Directories is a very attractive feature: Log in from any machine to get your complete configuration of mail, files, apps and prefs (a conventional network home directory feature). But for mobile machines you also get an automatically synced local copy, so you can take it all with you. Any changes you make when away from the network get synced to the server when you return,” he wrote.
“Lose your laptop? Hard disk crashed, or want to upgrade to a higher capacity 2.5-inch drive without the need for an external swap case? Just log in from somebody elses machine and keep working. When your replacement machine/HD arrives, just plug it in to the network and get working right away while the server builds the local home directory in the background.
“PHD makes it so easy to have multiple machines or replace old ones I dont understand why Apple doesnt make a personal server just to drive client machine sales, since the hassle factor of migrating to a new machine becomes negligible. Not to mention the customer support advantages for those with a spare Mac or two being free to send in a defective unit without missing a beat no matter how long it takes to repair, etc.
“I just experienced the benefits of network home directories first hand while dealing with a series of repairs on a lemon of an iMac G5.
“We never had to back up or scrub the drive before sending it in, all of the users on the machine had access to their system while it was in the shop, and when we finally got a replacement it only took a few minutes tweaking the network directory services utility to be back up and running.
“This would replace the need for backup drives or NAS appliances too.
“Id wager that Steve Jobs has been using this mode for his personal configuration since the NeXT days, what with a residential T-1 line since the mid-80s and all. But for mere mortals like me trying to get it working out of the box (non-trivial) and then dealing with several nagging reliability and application compatibility problems, we can only hope that it gets better in Leopard.
“Combined with a more robust implementation of FileVault, this feature in Leopard would let Apple make huge strides in the SMB market.
“Put it all in a Mac mini-like server appliance, priced at the original Cobalt Cubes $999, and watch the business market fall in love with Apple all over again.
“The home/media server market would go ga-ga for it too,” Ingulsrud concluded.
While some industry mavens warn that IT managers are being overwhelmed by appliances, smaller organizations can certainly benefit from the focus and easy setup they provide. Ingulsruds idea sounds like a winner.
Another suggestion came from Frank Corrigan, a technical resource analyst at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill. He said that Apple should bring back the Yellow Box, or the OpenStep code base from Rhapsody, OS Xs precursor.
Certainly, all the comments by readers are their own and do not represent the opinion of their employers.
Back in 1997, the plan was that the Yellow Box would let programmers write an application that could run on PowerPC Macs and Intel PCs. However, Apple killed this multi-OS plan, and the object-oriented Yellow Box became the base for the companys Cocoa environment.
“By reviving the Yellow Box concept, developers can start writing enterprise apps that are cross platform or possibly just entice small developers to use Xcode and be able to deploy to Windows and Mac,” Corrigan said.
Of course, Corrigan expects that Apple would open up its Xcode IDE to Windows applications. I dont see how thats going to happen.
I ran this idea by Dan Wood, a longtime NeXT programmer and co-owner of Karelia Software, the Alameda, Calif., maker of the new Sandvox Web content management system for OS X Tiger. He saw little upside in the Yellow Box for Apple or for his company.
“[Opening Xcode to Windows] has always been an interesting idea, but its hard to imagine Steve Jobs doing this—after all it would give people an excuse to get Windows if it allowed them to run their favorite and previously Mac-only program,” Wood said.
“But as a small developer, even if Apple enabled it, I dont know if I would want to compile my app for Windows. The tech support issues would be horrendous!” he said.
Its easy to scoff at this last statement. Why wouldnt any developer want to write for 95 percent of the market?
However, Wood sees that the different cultures of Mac and Windows customers and the different expectations of each platform could bring troubles for a small developer. Or perhaps its more that he chooses to stick with what he can deliver best and to a customer base that he understands.
This is a clear vision of a business model that other companies, small and big, would do well to emulate. Are you listening, Apple and Microsoft?
Do you yearn for a feature in Leopard? Let me know.
David Morgenstern is Storage Center editor for eWEEK.com and also has long experience with the Mac. He can be reached at [email protected]