Every once in a while, corporate IT shops have to ask, "Is the Mac any more, or less, worthy for the enterprise?" We learned some useful facts about Apple Computer Inc.'s future last week at the company's annual conference for developers in San Francisco. At the top of the list: Apple isn't moving to the Intel architecture for its central processors, but it is beginning to shed a hardware albatross in a smart way.
For IT, the hardware story may prove to be the most interesting. Apple leapt into the 64-bit era when it announced a new line of computers based on IBM Corp.'s PowerPC 970 microprocessors. The move was long overdue recognition that Motorola Inc., which has been Apple's PowerPC supplier, has lost too much ground in power and price to the Intel Corp. architecture in recent years. Apple is still using Motorola chips on lower-end machines and probably will keep doing so for some time, but the alliance with IBM strikes me as Apple's future.
There's no doubt that this hardware is a big step forward. It's not just a faster CPU, which Apple is branding the G5. The entire system offers an impressively advanced architecture that includes faster memory and an internal bus speed that moves the Mac ahead of the competition. Apple is also embracing Universal Serial Bus 2.0, somewhat surprisingly given its pushing of FireWire, but this is what the company has to do in today's world.
All that won't be enough to entice the enterprise for routine office applications. You're unlikely to see IT departments replacing their Windows desktop computers with the PowerMac G5, due to ship in August. Although the prices are quite competitive with the fastest Intel-compatible machines, they're way more costly than the slower -- but still amply fast -- PCs running Windows or Linux for ordinary office work.
However, users of high-end Macs have genuine incentives to upgrade. That's especially true for the "creative professionals" Apple counts as a core market. These folks are sure to be pleased. Software developers are rewriting their applications to take advantage of the G5 (for example, Adobe is reworking Photoshop), but 32-bit applications should run without modification. In some ways, G5s may be attractive as replacements for some Unix workstations.
Apple didn't announce a rack server or notebook G5. Expect the server before the notebook; heat issues are sure to constrain the latter.
The software story is mixed. The next version of the Unix-based operating system -- Mac OS X 10.3, code-named Panther -- is being delayed three months or so. Too bad. It's slick, with plenty of usability enhancements, such as vastly better search, and it looks like it will work even more smoothly inside Windows-oriented enterprises.
But Microsoft's increasingly ambivalent attitude toward the Mac could become a problem. Microsoft is killing development of Internet Explorer for the Mac, noting (without irony) that Apple's developers have an unfair advantage in developing the Safari browser because they have better access to the underlying operating system. And given how closely intertwined the Windows version of Office is becoming with the operating system, it's likely that the next OS X version of Office will be the last.
Apple is making tentative moves toward replacing Office with its own suite of applications, such as the Keynote presentation software. But Microsoft's never-ending efforts to lock in users with hard-to-decipher file formats, complex macros and other tricks will remain a problem for Mac users, and thus for Apple as well. This transition will be tricky.
Bottom line for IT? Apple can still make a case in the enterprise, targeting creative types, some road warriors and some server applications, and it's clearly not running short on innovation. -- Computerworld (US)
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.