Despite Hoopla At WWDC, Apple Offers Incremental Extras For Enterprise Developers

With Apple Inc. refreshing its iPhone line and Macintosh platform this week at its Worldwide Developer Conference, the company is continuing its incremental efforts to make its offerings appeal to enterprises.

The new iPhones and upgraded Macintosh client and server offerings unveiled at the WWDC in San Francisco on Monday offer some noteworthy, though modest new capabilities for enterprise developers and IT managers. But because of their large consumer appeal -- Apple said it has sold 40 million iPhones -- enterprises cannot ignore what comes from the Cupertino, Calif.-based company.

Perhaps most noteworthy to enterprises, the newest releases offer improved connectivity to Microsoft's Exchange Server. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, due in September, will include native support for Microsoft Exchange through ActiveSync. The feature makes it possible to use Apple's Mail client or Microsoft's Entourage client with Exchange 2007 Server without the IMAP restrictions. Because Exchange is the most widely deployed messaging and collaboration platform, enterprises are reluctant to support mobile devices that don't interoperate with it.

Apple added native Exchange support to the iPhone about a year ago, also via ActiveSync. That upgrade also included remote kill capabilities and some other Exchange-oriented management features. When the newly launched iPhone OS 3.0 debuts later this month, it will offer some additional business-oriented security features, including hardware encryption capabilities, and the ability to wipe out all data from a device if it is lost or stolen.

''These are features and capabilities that consumers really don't care about [but IT managers do],'' said Michael Gartenberg, VP of strategy and analysis at Interpret, LLC, a market research firm. ''One of the last complaints from the enterprise has been a lack of good Exchange clients for Mac OS, and they're fixing that with Snow Leopard.''

The company also released a developer preview of Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server, the next major release of its server platform, due in September. It's built on a full 64-bit UNIX server OS, and based on open standards, Apple said. It comes with features aimed at developers, such as Podcast Producer 2, for automating the creation and publication of podcasts, and Mobile Access Server, which provides secure access to firewall-protected network services for iPhone and Mac machines.

Apple's release of an upgraded Macintosh client platform comes as Microsoft is set to release Windows 7, which the company said will be released October 22 . Apple is hoping this will give pause to those enterprises faced with the eventual loss of support for Windows XP. ''The upcoming release of Windows 7 represents a huge inflection point,'' Gartenberg said, ''because Microsoft has said you really can't stay on XP any more. Given the cost of OS migrations in the enterprise, which often represent not just the cost of an operating system, but acquisition of new hardware, I suspect that Apple is hoping that businesses will say, 'if we're going to be pushed off XP as a platform, perhaps it's worth looking at all the platforms that are business friendly.' I think we're going to see Apple targeting those enterprises.''

It's a target few anticipate Apple will hit in a large way. Macintosh-based systems represent a small sliver of computers used by enterprises, and there's no evidence that that will change. What continues to stymie Apple's enterprise goals is good examples of Apple-based enterprise applications, said Bola Rotibi, principal analyst at Macehiter Ward-Dutton,

''Apple is showing some impressive features and capabilities, and some good developer support with SDKs and APIs, to be sure,'' Rotibi said. ''And I agree that the company has got the enterprise in its sights. But the question is: where are the big enterprise apps? Where are the big companies making a commitment to the Mac platform? In the enterprise, we're still talking .NET and Java.''

In an ideal world, businesses would adopt the best machine for a given job, Rotibi said. ''Then I think Microsoft would have something serious to worry about. But that's not what we see, usually. Apple still has a pretty wide perception chasm to get across to impact the enterprise. Which is not to say that they can't cross that gap. But there have been plenty of good technologies that didn't make the jump.''

Still, Gartenberg said, the momentum of iPhone adoption and the subsequent inroads it's making into the enterprise are likely to move Apple's platforms toward greater acceptance by business. ''Once you had the Exchange support for the iPhone, you started to see executives becoming fans of the device,'' said Gartenberg. ''That led to them buying MacBooks and bringing them into the company to do their work. And when a senior vice president of the company brings a MacBook into the office, hands it to the CIO, and says make it work, it's now a business machine whether IT likes it or not. That's going to impact enterprise developers.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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