Enterprises eye Mac OS X

The bad news for Macintosh supporters is that the IT jury is still out on how Mac OS X fits into the enterprise. The good news is that at least some IT managers are deliberating with open minds.

C.J. Rayhill, CIO at Sebastopol, Calif.-based publisher O'Reilly & Associates Inc., manages 300 PCs. The operating systems in use are about equally split between Linux, Mac OS and Windows, but that could change soon. "We're looking at a wholesale changeover of our desktop systems by the end of 2003," Rayhill says.

Should Rayhill decide to consolidate onto one operating system, Mac OS X running on systems from Apple Computer Inc. is the leading candidate. She cites strong user preference within O'Reilly's IT department, noting that Mac OS X, which is based on BSD Unix and the Mach kernel, is displacing Linux as the platform of choice among developers.

Apple's new rack-mount Xserve servers, which run OS X, also appeal to O'Reilly's systems administrators. And with OS X being the only non-Windows operating system to run Microsoft Office natively, Rayhill says having a single desktop standard is possible up and down the enterprise.

Rayhill and many other IT managers give Apple credit for what it has done to improve Unix. "A good part of Mac OS X's appeal to me is that having a disciplined interface makes work so much easier," says John Welch, information systems manager for the MIT Police Department in Cambridge, Mass. For example, he says, other Unix graphical user interfaces (GUI) have different ways to kill a job. But with OS X, it's always the same for any application.

"I've run every Unix GUI that's ever shipped - for about 30 minutes. I hate them all," says Chuck Goolsbee, vice president of technical operations at Digital Forest Inc., a Bothell, Wash.-based application service provider with 400 Macintosh servers in its data center. His conclusion: "Apple has done a great job with the GUI."

Welch, who is testing Mac OS X as a network domain controller, says a systems administrator can configure a server a half-hour faster using the Mac OS X GUI than he could using a Unix server. And he predicts that technical support for end users running Mac OS X will decrease because the underlying Unix core is inherently more stable.

Solid Foundation

The Mac OS X's stability has already proved itself to Dale Sorenson, president of Sorenson Services USA in New York. The streaming-media consultancy recently finished an 80-hour project for a client using advanced media encoding software running on Mac OS X. Now at the end of the project, Sorenson says he's "giddy with how stable it is."

"It crashed once in two weeks," he says. "But because streaming-media development always uses the most bleeding-edge tools you can get your hands on, I'm used to crashing every two hours."

The stability also pleases John Balling, executive director of integrated technology services at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. He's evaluating Mac OS X for deployment among the 1,200 PCs on campus, about one-third of which are Macintoshes. More uptime translates into fewer IT support problems, Balling says.

"It's inevitable that we will roll it out," he says, but only when and where it's needed. He adds that he doesn't see Mac OS X threatening Windows desktops because of the relative dearth of packaged software for it.

Later this summer, Apple plans to release the "Jaguar" version of OS X, which will include features that could appeal to IT professionals.

For example, Jaguar will ship with FreeBSD 4.4 (an open-source version of Unix), the new GNU Compiler Collection 3 compiler, IP Version 6 and the IPsec security protocol. It will also work better with Windows networks by adding server message block support for improved resource sharing. Apple is also building in virtual private network capabilities with the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. Another plus for IT administrators is Rendezvous, Apple's proposed standard for automatic device discovery on IP networks.

Whether Mac OS X lifts Apple from its current 5% market share remains to be seen. But IT hasn't looked this kindly on the Mac in almost a decade.

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