Why Apple won't let the Mac and iPhone succeed in business

There's a reason Macs and iPhones don’t meet the needs of big business: Apple self-imposed corporate glass ceiling

Macs in enterprise: The bigger you are, the harder it is One factor working against Apple's prospects in business environments is that fact that businesses that have gone all-Mac have had to figure out themselves how to make it work. For smaller businesses, that's not so hard to do. Microsoft Office for Mac has perhaps 90 percent of the capabilities of the Windows version, for example, and if you need Visual Basic support, you can use the older Office 2003 version rather than the VB-less Office 2008 version. For email, there are clients for Exchange, Lotus Notes, and Novell GroupWise available. The Mac OS, of course, supports POP and IMAP email servers as well.

Mac OS X supports Active Directory and LDAP, so you can enforce Windows Server-based policies on Mac users. And if you want to manage software distribution on Macs, you can use a Mac OS X Server to do so, with the benefit of its ability to share policies with Windows Server. Plus, there are several good departmental-scale client management tools for Mac OS available.

Using Parallels Desktop or EMC VMware Fusion to run Windows lets you cover the specialty needs some users may have that the Mac can't support, such as running ActiveX-based apps in Internet Explorer or running Windows-only apps like Microsoft Visio. (To use the Mac's ability to run Windows means you need to pay $75 for the virtualization license in addition to whatever your Microsoft group license agreement's per-user fee is for Windows.)

So for most white-collar workers working in companies whose IT staff is able to deal with sourcing and supporting two platforms and handling the fairly minimal integration between Mac OS and Windows, the Mac can be brought in as-is.

But the more controlling and/or farflung an organization is, the harder it is to support Macs. Standard asset management tools don't have good Mac clients, for example. Remote management of a Mac beyond what an Exchange policy can enforce also becomes tricky, due to the lack of good Mac client management support in Windows Server or in tools such as HP OpenView, IBM Tivoli, LANdesk, and CA's management suites.

The departmental focus of Mac OS X Server also doesn't lend itself to central management across multiple office locations, and the need to bring in a Mac to an Apple Store or authorized repair shop also becomes problematic outside of major cities or when there is no local IT staff.

And the Mac's lack of presence outside basic applications also becomes an issue. (Apple maintains a list of business Mac apps that's worth perusing to see if your apps have Mac versions.) Although some specialty apps, such as IBM SPSS's analytics software, have Mac versions, most don't -- or they have only limited-functionality versions. Office 2008 for Mac is a great example: Not only does it not support Visual Basic, but its Exchange client, Entourage, doesn't support away notices or allow users to see which addresses are contained in an Exchange-hosted group address. These partially capable clients make it impossible to assure everyone has the same capabilities, and thus creates exceptions that IT has to manage.

Thus, the more applications your organization uses, the more of a headache these Mac software issues create. That's why in large companies, the Macs tend to be clustered in specific departments, such as marketing, where they can be managed locally and for which the specialty software the users need is available for Mac OS.

iPhones faces the same scale ceiling The situation for the iPhone is no different: If remote management, compliance adherence, and large-scale management are necessary, you're out of luck. There are no native Lotus Notes or Novell GroupWise clients for the iPhone, just limited-capability Webmail access. The iPhone's Exchange policy support is much better than what Google Android or Palm WebOS provide, but nowhere near the level of BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) or what Windows Server can do with Windows Mobile.

You can distribute configuration profiles to iPhones via email or Web sites that contain Exchange ActiveSync policies and VPN settings, but you can't monitor whether users have installed them or track what version they have -- something many public companies must do to meet various compliance requirements. Having a local IT person hook up each iPhone to a USB connector and view its settings in Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility is not a workable option in large businesses, where their scale requires automated management.

Yes, companies like Good Technology are beginning to offer iPhone management capabilities, but their products are still in early stages and not as complete as what's available for the BlackBerry or Windows Mobile devices. Perhaps in a year or three, these third parties will have brought the iPhone close to par with these two enterprise-class mobile platforms. But they alone can't do it: Apple needs to deepen the native security and management capabilities of the iPhone, and IBM and Novell have to get serious native clients into the Apple App Store.

Apple's not acting on enterprise needs Mac OS X Snow Leopard tantalized us with its Exchange-capable Mail, iCal, and Address Book apps, as well as its support for Cisco VPNs without needing a Cisco client. But Apple's implementation stopped at the midsize company ceiling. So, while it's great to access Exchange email via Mail in seconds rather than in Entourage's minutes, it's frustrating that it doesn't support away notices, visibility into group addresses' members, or delegated email accounts -- the kind of features that help companies avoid using local IT people to do simple tasks.

Likewise, the support for Cisco VPN clients in the Mac OS X's Network system preference means you can avoid worrying about having a compatible Cisco VPN client available, yet it's a nonstarter for large businesses that an IT person has to manually enter the shared security key on each Mac -- Apple didn't bother letting the Network system preference import a secured configuration file as Cisco's own client app does.

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Galen Gruman

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