Enterprise Computing: To go where no Mac has gone before!
Business analysts and pundits have been saying for years that Apple needs to push into corporate and enterprise computing market if they ever expect to regain market share. Now that Apple has announced Xserve, Apple’s powerful rack mounted server, web sites like eWeek, Business Week, and much of the Mac web has made a big deal about how Xserve signals Apple’s return to Corporate and Enterprise computing. If you read many of those stories you’ll see a theme that repeats throughout many of them. Xserve, though a very serious server configuration and quite powerful, will most likely not gain Apple much market share in the enterprise market.
Well, DUH! I could have told you that. What those stories fail to recognize is that the Xserve is only a small part of the story.
What’s really going to gain Apple market share in the corporate and enterprise markets? Pssssst, lean in close. I’m going to whisper this next part. It’s not the hardware it’s the ssssooofffftware. And if you are one of those analysts that sentence also includes a “dummy!” on the end.
For years, Mac users have been second-class citizens when it comes to corporate networks, or worse, we’ve been locked out entirely. Forbidden from even being considered for use on the network. Supposedly, Macs couldn’t connect, didn’t run the corporate approved software, weren’t secure, addax, yaddah, yaddah, IT techs would drone on and on, like a broken record.
It’s frustrating because with only a few add-ons or a few services turned on; Macs are truly useful on virtually any network. Just look at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories where thousands of Macs have peacefully coexisted on a huge enterprise network. It’s a complete myth that Macs can’t be used on a network.
While I was working at a PC manufacturer in their IT department, I never could resist hooking up my PowerBook to the network, running OS 8.6Ð9.x. That was ok for surfing the intranet and the Internet but I couldn’t connect to shares or other PCs, it was a Windows enterprise with no Mac services available. Yes, software like Thursby’s DAVE would have made it more useful but in my mind, that was never a very elegant solution. Besides, out in the corporate world, additional cost would only count more against Macs.
Naturally, when OS X came out, I instantly loaded it onto my PowerBook and took it to work. Because I regularly connected to Unix boxes on site, I naturally tried telnetting from my Mac and by Jove! It worked! But as far as getting the “corporate” work done, well I was still stuck with my PC. I didn’t give up though I just bided my time.
Though Apple never said anything official, they did hint that companies had been expressing interest in OS X as a corporate computing platform. Finally the corporate world would have an alternative to Windows. Apple never let on more than that. If pressed, Steve Jobs would say that Apple would continue to focus on creating great consumer products. That if they focused on creating great computers, that the users would create a demand for Apple in the corporate market. Which is exactly how the Apple ][ made it’s way into the business world. First purchased for home use pretty soon people realized how they could be used at work. First they were bought with petty cash or out of personal funds and brought to work to run VisiCalc. Even IBM’s “PC” first made inroads into the corporate world, much in this same way.
I just waited. I waited for Apple to keep on making great computers and to perfect OS X. They knew what and where they had to make Mac work.
When OS X 10.1 came out with SMB connectivity built in, I was thrilled. My PowerBook was the first without a floppy drive. I of course had to buy one, not so much for my use but for sharing data with PCs. Obviously though, a floppy simply cannot take care of everything. As part of what I did, I would occasionally have to work with large files, way too large to fit onto a floppy disk. When 10.1 came out, well, it was a godsend because I could hook my PowerBook up to the network, type in a path and connect to my team’s file share, to my own PC and even my team mates’ PCs. It ROCKED!
During that time I tried over and over again to write a column about the possibility of switching over to a Mac entirely to do my corporate computing. It never happened, I couldn’t complete that column ’cause the Mac OS wasn’t complete. Don’t get me wrong. The Mac has always been a viable platform for getting work done. More than viable, Macs have always had a much better total cost of ownership and their ease of use makes the return on investment better than PCs. What the Mac and OS X wasn’t ready for was interoperability on a Windows enterprise. 10.1 brought us so much closer that I was chomping at the bit for it.
Recently, when Steve Jobs showed off Jaguar to Developers at WWDC we saw what Apple had hinted at but had never confirmed. They are indeed going back after the corporate market. Jaguar is so packed full of enterprise networking capabilities it isn’t even funny. When Jaguar comes out you’ll be able to load it on any supported Mac and put it on an enterprise network, no fuss, no muss, just equal footing for your Mac, finally.
Think about that for a minute, total equality for Macs and let it sink in. doesn’t that feel good?
OS X 10.1 already has SMB connectivity. SMB or Serve Message Block is the basis for Windows networking. When I’d type in the path to a share on my PowerBook I’d get a log in dialog box asking for my Enterprise Account name along with my password. Tadahh! I’d be connected. It mounted on my desktop just like it was any other Mac share.
TCP/IP printing from OS X is already just as easy. Easier than the PCs I used at my work. I never had to type in a network path of a printer. I’d just type in the name of the printer and bam! I could print to it. These two features alone made using a Mac on a Windows enterprise network almost possible. But there was still some interoperability that was lacking.
Jaguar is going to expand these existing features. First, SMB connectivity will be expanded to full SMB/CIFS browsing and sharing. That means that not only will you be able to connect to network servers and PC shares but also be able to connect to folders you share on your Mac. You’ll be able to browse the network just like a Windows box does and connect easy as pie. Later I’ll talk about how much easier this will be with another feature of Jaguar.
Maybe you don’t want to bring a Mac into work; all you want to do is have the ability to telecommute from time to time without buying or begging a Wintel box from work. The problem is your IT guys tell you that you can’t ’cause Macs won’t work with Exchange server and beyond that, there is no secure way to connect to the network.
HA! Your IT guys won’t be able to use that excuse any longer! Yep, Jaguar will add not just functionality with Exchange servers but will also support VPN, AKA Virtual Private Networks. No additional software needed! Right out of the box, Jaguar gives you full and equal access to your corporate network from home! Sweet! No more droning excuses from IT that Macs can’t connect securely from outside the firewall! YES!
Soon, if you’d like to be able to telecommute, if you are home with a sick child, or if you just want to check your e-mail before heading into work, it’s all good to go from your new iMac with Jaguar! Apple has got you covered!
Before getting laid off from my job in the IT world, I noticed a huge influx of instant messaging being used in the business world. Instant messaging had gone from the sole domain of AOL junkies to being a powerful communication tool. Suppose you’re on the phone with a client, you need to double-check the specs on a new product. No worries just fire up your instant messenger and chat to one of the engineers and they’ll give you the scoop. You don’t have to put your client on hold, you don’t have to “get back to them” you don’t have to wait for someone to check their e-mail and best of all, you don’t have to go wandering around your offices trying to track someone down. You just quick ask them a question via your instant messenger.
Apple has that covered. AOL has let Apple build a 100% AIM compatible instant messaging program called iChat. Apple is the very first to do so with AOL’s blessing. And what’s best of all, Apple’s version will build you a buddy list based on other users on your local area network! It’s all done for you. Leave it to Apple.
These additions are just a few of the features that Jaguar will add to the Mac OS. They’re the most important for giving the Mac equal footing on an enterprise network but it only gets better. What makes all of the above all that more powerful is one more feature that Apple is introducing with Jaguar. It’s called Rendezvous.
Remember how I wrote earlier Apple was going to make connecting on a network easier? Rendezvous is the technology that will do that for you. Rendezvous goes out on an IP network and will automatically discover other network aware devices. Everything from your neighbor’s shared folder of MS Word and Excel documents to network printers and file servers. You won’t have to type in a path or nothing! You’re Mac will track them down for you and you’ll be able to connect to them any time you’re ready. Heck, Rendezvous will even make it possible for you to print to your neighbor’s shared ink jet printer!
iChat’s ability to seek out a local buddy list uses this Rendezvous technology. It’s going to make networking a Mac so easy it isn’t even funny! In fact, it’ll make PC users jealous!
Yes, Xserve has been getting a lot of press lately for finally giving Apple credibility in the corporate enterprise market but it’s Jaguar that’s going to go make the difference. All we’ll have to do is show off our Mac’s usability, bring our PowerBooks into work, dynamically discovering shares, servers, and printers on the network, building local area buddy lists via iChat or finally just connecting from home via VPNs and to collect our e-mail from Exchange servers, we’ll see many a PC user peering over their cubicle walls and thinking to themselves, “Why doesn’t my Windows computer do that?”
Jaguar promises to finally give Mac users equality in the corporate world. It will also shut the mouths of all those IT Techs and all their excuses as to why we can’t use a Mac on “their” network. If enough of us insist on using Macs, well, Apple’s Xserve is right there when a corporation will finally decide to support Macs on their network. Just remember that it’s the Software, not the hardware that’s going to make it all possible.