Macs in the Enterprise: A Question of Emphasis

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Aug 20, 2008


Paul Rubens
A couple of weeks back in OS Roundup I wrote a piece about Apple which generated a fair level of response, so I thought it would be sensible to take another look at it.

As well as pointing out that I share a name (albeit spelled differently) with the TV and film character Pee-wee Herman, many readers wrote in to say that they have implemented OS X servers and clients in their enterprise environments and that they are very satisfied with their performance and reliability. Some added that with so few security issues they were able to get by with far fewer administrators than would have been possible in a Windows environment. Clearly there is nothing wrong with the operating system itself.

OS Roundup: Mac OS X may well be ready for the enterprise. Is Apple?

Just as an aside, it’s worth considering when OS X will begin to attract in significant numbers the malware writers who have been plaguing Windows users for so long. With Mac sales increasing, it seems inevitable sooner rather than later. Talking to The Times, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at the security company Sophos, says:

“I think the Mac user base will end up becoming polluted by some of the same people who have been infected time and time again in the Windows environment. It’s mainly the same people who buy a computer primarily to download porn and visit file-sharing sites. I think Apple will start to become a victim of its own success. I think hackers will see this community as a soft target.”

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Other readers took exception to calling Apple a toy company, maintaining that despite dropping “Computer” from its name it is still a computer company, and pointing out that sales of Macs are growing. It’s certainly true that iPods and iPhones are computers of sorts, but the important point is perhaps that as well as selling computer hardware and software in the conventional sense of the word, the company has moved to other markets including consumer electronics, mobile phones, and music and software retailing. Probably just about half of Apple’s revenues comes from iPods, phones, and downloads, and it would certainly appear that it’s the popularity of the “toy” side that’s attracting people to the Mac side, not the other way around – the so-called halo effect.

One reader points out that far from being toys, iPhones and iPod Touches run very sophisticated operating systems under the hood, and that they are they all part of Apple’s plan to penetrate the enterprise market with something far better than anything Microsoft (or RIM) can come up with. The iPhone (and Touch) software is certainly impressive, and it will be interesting to see whether enterprises are happy to fork out in significant numbers for a mobile device for their employees which is also an iPod, video player and powerful games machine. I suspect not.

But by far the biggest response came from people replying to my comments that Apple can’t walk and chew gum at the same time (by which I mean it can’t develop the iPhone software and Mac OS X software at the same time.) Many people point out (correctly) that Microsoft, with far more resources at its disposal than Apple, was still plagued with delays for its Vista OS.

The reason I think it’s troubling that Apple’s OS X software was delayed is the company’s own admission that it didn’t have enough software engineers to work on it as they were doing more important work: developing iPhone software. Vista may have been delayed numerous times, but there was no suggestion that it was because Microsoft was more interested in fixing problems with the Xbox 360 than tackling its new OS: It clearly has the resources to devote to both, even though it wasn’t very successful.

OS X may well be a wonderful operating system which many people are using successfully in the enterprise. But it should be cause for concern to enterprise customers that Apple has demonstrated that its computer business is not always its main focus, and that at times it lacks the resources it needs to devote to computers and “non-computers” at the same time. It’s a legitimate concern because unless that’s put right, Apple is likely to devote the resources it has to the parts of its business it thinks will rake in the highest profits. Apple’s server market share is still tiny after all these years – it’s doubtful that Apple sees a pot of gold there.

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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