What business can expect from Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Tighter integration with Exchange and the end of AppleTalk are main changes for the enterprise

It's the OS that won't go away, despite many enterprises' avowed distaste and Apple's own public disinclination to support enterprise usage. And yet, the newest Mac OS -- Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, due to be released later this summer -- has two major changes aimed directly at business users and the IT staff that supports them.

Despite that mutual disinterest, metrics from both IDC and Gartner show that Mac OS has held steady in U.S. market share, hovering between 7 and 8 percent (with a share of about 4 percent in business). And, according to a Technology Intelligence survey, nearly a quarter of businesses have at least 30 Macs. As for Mac OS's showing among those connected to the Internet, NetApplications has Mac OS X at 9.8 percent. Even if IT doesn't like the Mac's presence, and even if Apple doesn't care to commit to enterprise support, Macs are now better business clients than ever.

Native Exchange support on a Mac

You could easily argue that Apple's public lack of interest in business users masks a stealth strategy to worm its way into the enterprise without being held accountable. A year ago, the iPhone added native Exchange support via Microsoft's ActiveSync, including remote kill capabilities and other management features via Exchange. The new iPhone OS 3.0 due out this summer is said to extend the business-oriented security features even further. And Mac OS X Snow Leopard will come with native Exchange support via ActiveSync as well, so you can use Apple's Mail client or Microsoft's Entourage client with Exchange 2007 Server natively -- no longer are you restricted to using IMAP. But note the requirement to use Exchange 2007 for native access, though there's no need for an Exchange client license on the Mac.

In business, using ActiveSync at first appears to be a nonevent. It's simply there, enabling Microsoft's Entourage (2004 or 2008) to keep synced with your Exchange server, updating your folders regardless of whether you open them. Connecting to an Exchange 2003 Server via Apple's Mail is done via IMAP, which Snow Leopard's Mail 4.0 calls IMAP Exchange and Leopard's Mail calls simply Exchange. In other words, ActiveSync doesn't do anything; Mail continues to synchronize based on the schedule you've chosen, and as with the iPhone, folder mail is updated only when the folder is opened. Connected to an Exchange 2007 Server, however, Mail acts like Entourage -- persistently synced.

Using Exchange 2007 has subtle implications for Mail. For example, if you set up Mail with an Exchange 2007 account, deleted messages are moved to the server's Trash folder automatically, not kept locally. You can also set up an Exchange root path.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard adds native Exchange 2007 support to more than just Mail. Address Book and iCal can both be set to sync directly with Exchange 2007 -- no more of error-prone synchronization through Mac OS X's Sync Services. As with the iPhone, you can select which services you want Mac OS X Snow Leopard to sync, enabling business users to maintain personal calendars in iCal and/or personal contacts in Address Book, while keeping their business information in Exchange.

iCal has an integrated view of both Exchange calendars and personal calendars, just as Address Book shows an integrated view of Exchange contacts and local contacts. And if you've set up iCal and Address Book to sync with Exchange 2007, dragging an Address Book contact onto iCal sets up an appointment via Exchange. If you use meeting room locations in Exchange, iCal can look for next available time in a meeting room and reschedule meeting automatically.

What this means to IT is that your Mac users now interact with Exchange like Windows users, and the process is more invisible for them -- if you use Exchange 2007.

There are some non-obvious benefits as well. For example, if you equip your business users with BlackBerrys and use the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to sync the mobile devices with Exchange, you can ensure that Entourage (or Mail, iCal, and Address Book) are automatically synced as well, without having to use Sync Services and a third-party tool such as PocketMac SyncManager. Of course, the same advantages apply if your business users have iPhones or other Exchange-compatible devices.

Good riddance to AppleTalk

Beyond adding native ActiveSync support, Mac OS X Snow Leopard kills a technology IT has long hated: AppleTalk. Ever since it introduced Mac OS X nearly a decade ago, Apple has methodically shifted more and more of the Mac's networking to IP. Mac OS X Snow Leopard completes that transition, removing the AppleTalk protocol completely. Mac OS X is now IP-based.

This is another nearly invisible change. The AppleTalk pane goes away in the Network system preference settings for Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections. But it means the chatty AppleTalk protocol simply cannot be used by Macs running Snow Leopard, so you no longer need to support it, nor worry about it clogging your network bandwidth.

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Galen Gruman

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