It's clear that 2006 was a momentous year for Apple. The company's entire Mac lineup was converted to Intel processors, Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop offered every Intel Mac owner the ability to run Windows on their computers and iPod sales continued to surge -- the release of the Zune notwithstanding. Coupled with a successful year on those fronts, Apple tantalized users with a preview of the next version of Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. "Leopard," and a set-top box for streaming photos, music and video to your TV. And it continued to keep everyone guessing about the next generation iPods and a possible iPhone.
As exciting as 2006 was for Apple fans, 2007 promises to be even bigger.
The biggest and most compelling coming attraction for the majority of Mac users will be the release of Leopard sometime this Spring. The operating system's impressive feature set, or at least those facets of it that Apple has made public to date, may very well constitute the biggest advance of any OS X release. Leopard is expected to provide developers with amazing new capabilities (particularly in animation and imaging), and it's designed to make the Mac easier and more productive for the average user. New features include Time Machine for backups and recovery; improved Spotlight searching; a more advanced version of Front Row that works on every Mac; Apple's virtual desktop software, Spaces; a truly collaborative version of iCal; and a new version of iChat sporting a variety of fun features. Of course, those are just the things we know about; I have no doubt that when Leopard is released or demoed, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will have his famous "one more thing" to show us about it.
Equally big news is Leopard Server, which is planned for release along with the Leopard client operating system. With Leopard Server, Apple will be implementing some dramatic new and updated technologies. Advances in Open Directory will give systems administrators more ease and flexibility in managing clients; iCal server will allow users of any major calendar application to share information; a wiki server and updated blog and mailing list components will offer users new and easier forms of collaboration; Time Machine will offer easier backups of both servers and workstations; a dynamic firewall should offer better security; and 32- and 64-bit applications will be able to run side by side.
Those features are all available for the single cost of a server license -- without a doubt, a smart move on Apple's part and something systems or network administrators will want to check out directly.
But Leopard Server reaches an audience beyond the typical set of IT professionals. Apple is aiming to capture some of the small business community by offering a new Server Preferences application that offers stripped-down server management for small workgroups. I'm both curious and somewhat hesitant about how Apple will manage to create a fully functional and yet very simple server management system. If any company can design an elegant interface to accomplish this task, it's probably Apple. If Apple gets this right, Leopard Server could be an ideal solution for small organizations that can't afford a full-time systems administrator. That could attract a new class of business users to the Mac and to Mac OS X Server -- while providing a product that they can grow into should they need more advanced features.