Enterprise Unix Roundup: Serving Up OS X

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted May 14, 2008


Brian Proffitt
Linux on the desktop? Apple in the enterprise? Two questions, with perhaps the same answer.

Want to get a heated debate going? Just ask Linux advocates (myself included): Why is Linux not popular on the desktop?

The answers vary, depending on whom you ask: More Linux desktop applications are needed; proprietary vendors have locked Linux out of the OEMs; and (my personal non-favorite) consumers just aren't ready for Linux. The latter is a polite way of saying they're too dumb to figure Linux out. Now that's a winning market strategy.

I have come to my own opinion. Linux is not yet making inroads on the desktop is simply because there's no money in it.

Based on various surveys, Windows holds 92 percent to 95 percent of the world's desktop platforms. Macs and Linux machines hold the rest, with Linux slightly ahead on corporate desktops and far behind on consumer machines. That's not a big market within which to generate revenue.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Conversely, Linux has a big chunk of the server space, big enough that it's taking share away from Unix and Windows servers. More money can be made selling Linux on server installations, so quite naturally the commercial vendors spend much time, effort and money trying to increase that market share.

Since resources are limited, it makes sense that vendors spend more effort on server sales than desktop sales.

For those who think this answer is too simplistic, I hold up a mirror example. Given its clear minority in the desktop space, how come Apple isn't making a push into the server space with its Unix-based operating system?

This has been hanging over OS X for a while. I even talked to Apple about it earlier this year. While the company (and a lot of other people) agree there's some real technical capability for OS X in the server room, there's not been an open push from Apple to get more server business.

I am not the only one asking. Anders Bylund over at Motley Fool raised the question yesterday:

OK, so there's the Xserve system with Mac OS X Server running on up to eight Xeon cores. The system gets great reviews from the industry press, thanks to a full set of enterprise must-haves like RAID storage, hot-swappable disks and power supplies, and 24/7 technical support contracts. But you can't say that Steve Jobs and his crew are pushing this option very hard. The company doesn't break out business-class systems in its financial reports, management has hardly even mentioned the Xserve in the last 10 earnings calls, and all of the considerable marketing muscle is flexing for consumer products like the iPhone, iPod/iTunes, and MacBook Air these days.

Bylund basically answers himself here. The simple explanation for Apple's paltry server market share is the same as that of Linux on the desktop: There's more money in those other markets. Apple is making solid revenue in the desktop, music and consumer handheld device channels. Why would it spend time and money to grab server market share?

Of course, just as the commercial Linux vendors are not ignoring the desktop completely, neither is Apple shunning the server business. While Apple is not launching a full-on campaign for the server space, it is making careful, targeted moves into specialized verticals like creative, education, Federal and government, and life sciences.

For Apple, it's not a question of if it will ever make an impact on the server market. It's just a question of when.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet and AllLinuxDevices.

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