Apple in the Enterprise: Is It Real This Time?


So is it finally real? Is Apple making a serious play for the enterprise, or is it just a lot of wishful thinking on behalf of Mac partisans?

As a fan of the Mac and the design philosophy that Mac stands for in general, my sympathies lie with the former, but the more practical, analytical side of me can't help but admit that the latter is closer to reality. Here's why:

While it's true that Apple has made some appealing upgrades in both its Leopard operating system and gadgets like the iPhone, it hardly qualifies as a full-blown run at the enterprise. The new OS X, dubbed Snow Leopard, shows the most promise. It adds things like Mobile Access Server that provides much-needed encryption and authentication for iPhones and private networks, plus Wiki Server 2 and Address Book Server aimed at further integrating iPhones into the enterprise work day.

You also get full 64-bit UNIX support, which doubles the speed of the current Leopard for faster performance with such crucial tools as Mail, Finder and the new Safari 4 Web browser. And in recognition of who plays the leading role in the enterprise right now, the system supports Microsoft Exchange Server, easing that most common of Apple-in-the-enterprise complaints: incompatibility with legacy infrastructure.

It all sounds impressive, but is it enough? Sadly, no. As Bola Rotibi of Macehiter Ward-Dutton explained to Redmond Developer News, platforms live and die by third-party application support, and the fact is that the major developers, at least, aren't likely to go very far out on a limb for Apple when they have a proven environment from Microsoft. That could change in the future, she says, but not until Mac can overcome the perception that the enterprise is a secondary concern.

How can it do that? Nothing less than a concerted effort across multiple fronts will truly accomplish the job. Pete Mortensen, who specializes in corporate growth strategies, says a three-pronged approach that emulates the successes of other enterprise providers would be a good start. He suggests going with cheaper PCs and laptops using standardized components, partnerships with established enterprise vendors and, most importantly, an end to the secrecy surrounding product development. The surprise factor at MacWorld may work with consumers, but IT executives need to build their capital budgets months ahead of time, and they absolutely will not take risks on unknown hardware and software.

The one thing you can't fault Apple on, however, is design and engineering quality. The company has a reputation for simplicity and elegance, but in the business world that simply isn't enough. Systems also need to be cheap and have the flexibility to work with third-party technology.

Apple certainly has the in-house capability to become a serious enterprise player if it wants to, but it will take more than throwing a few bones into its operating system to do that.