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OS Roundup: Apple, Out of Touch With Server Room Needs

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Jul 30, 2008


Paul Rubens
Apple's products are mostly fun and games these days. Still, it continues to court businesses. Is basing a data center infrastructure on its enterprise offerings akin to playing Tumblin' Monkeys?

Here's a great idea to put to your CIO: Why not run the company using a server operating system made by Mattel? It's the company behind Barbie and Hot Wheels (not to mention Tumblin' Monkeys), so it certainly knows a thing or two about toys. Maybe its designers have enough time to put together an enterprise OS.

Yeah, right. The idea is plain ridiculous, but is it any more ridiculous than using Apple's OS X Server or letting end users work on Macs in the enterprise?

Because the truth is, Apple is not really a computer company. It makes toys. It used to be a computer company called Apple Computer, but it dropped the "Computer" bit from its name in January 2007 as a tacit admission that it was now a consumer gadget maker, not to mention an online music retailer. Following the introduction of the iPhone and iPod Touch, two very pretty "boy's toys," the company's latest caper is the launch of its App Store.

The top-selling applications as I write are Band, Crash Bandicoot and Super Monkey Ball, which sounds uncomfortably similar — in name at least — to the aforementioned and very wonderful Tumblin' Monkeys.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Perhaps I am being unfair. After all, Microsoft makes toys too, and plenty of enterprises run their businesses using its server OSes. Just under 40 percent of all server spending was on Windows-based servers in the first quarter of 2008, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. Yet Microsoft also makes the Zune, for example, as well as the legendary Microsoft Barney.

So why shouldn't enterprises take Apple seriously? Here's the problem: It can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Microsoft is huge, and it is quite capable of doing more than one thing at a time. During the past two years, it worked on Vista, Windows Server 2008, the Hyper-V virtualization system and the Zune — all at the very same time.

The same cannot be said for Apple. It can certainly make great toys like the iPhone and iPod Touch, and there's no doubt it can create OSes. But, as it revealed last year, it can't do both at the same time:

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"... iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team," Apple announced. "As a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned."

That's scary stuff and not what you want to hear from an OS developer. The iPhone software development effort wasn't a one off, either: The company has clearly been putting plenty of resources into developing version 2.0 of its iPhone (and iPod Touch) software during the past few months. Firmware for its consumer toys, not software for its computers, is the priority at the moment.

It's ironic, then, that many commentators have been suggesting the new iPhone 2.0 software (which adds features like support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync to make the phone more attractive to businesses) will raise Apple's profile in the business market and thus lead to a gradual increase in the use of Macs in the enterprise. Also ironic is a new industry group consisting of Atempo, Centrify, Group Logic, LANrev and Parallels to form the Enterprise Desktop Alliance (EDA). This consortium of software developers is dedicated, according to the group's Web site, to "making it easy to deploy, integrate and manage Macs in a Windows environment."

Running Macs in the enterprise doesn't seem like a good idea if Apple hasn't got enough engineers to provide the kind of resources an enterprise desktop OS inevitably needs. For example, if enough corporate bigwigs insist on bringing their shiny new MacBook Airs onto the LAN, you can be sure malware writers will start to target them. How fast will Apple be able to respond with patches if it's too busy selling Super Monkey Ball?

Granted, Microsoft isn't always the fastest to respond to newly discovered exploits, but there's no doubt it has the manpower to put to the task when it really wants to. Likewise, there's certainly no shortage or Linux and Unix patch-writing experts willing to devote their time to producing security fixes for their OSes.

So where does that leave Apple's server OS? In the nine years since its launch, it's gone precisely nowhere, and with Unix server spending declining in the first part of the year, according to IDC, it doesn't exactly look like sales are going to explode any time soon. Where will Apple be devoting its attention over the next year or two then: Developing its server OS or making more toys for the boys (and girls)? That's a tough one. Not.

Lest you think I am just another mindless Apple basher, I'll proudly admit to having an iPod Touch, a black Classic, white fourth- and third-gen models, a silver Nano, and three Shuffles (one lost) in a variety of colors. But would I put an Apple Server in my business? Not a chance.

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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