OS X: The Apple Of Systems Integrators' Eye?

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Forget the new iMacs and iPods. When it comes to the business market, Apple is leaving money on the table by not aggressively pushing its Mac OS X operating system into corporations running Windows.

So says Mike Healey, president of Technology Execution Network (TENCorp), a Microsoft partner and Apple authorized dealer in Needham, Mass. The latest version of Macintosh OS X delivers a win-win-win for partners, Apple and Microsoft, Healey said. That's because its interoperability with Microsoft's Windows and Active Directory holds lucrative consulting and integration gigs for Apple and Microsoft partners, gives Apple greater leverage in the corporate world, and offers Microsoft a friendly and proprietary alternative to Linux it can recommend when necessary. Given a choice between Linux and a proprietary OS from a somewhat-friendly company, Microsoft would prefer to back that proprietary OS, Healey said.

Released last fall, Mac OS X version 10.3, code-named Panther, ensures that Mac OS X systems can share files, printers and network services with Windows users. It also supports Microsoft Exchange in OS X Mail and Address Book. The most recent update, version 10.3.5, offers improved support for NT File System (NTFS) formatted volumes and improved reliability of user logins and mounting of home directories in a networked environment.

"Windows support has been there for some time, but people weren't convinced that [the two OSes] worked together. Now they do," Healey said. "The compatibility was there technically, but now it's usable. Now we can make money," he said. His company has nailed more than five consulting jobs for Macintosh-Windows integration.

"We could always get a Mac on the network, but for Outlook and calendaring, the Mac has always been the bastard child. Now 3.5's Active Directory support and the new Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac closes those gaps and builds that bridge," said Anson Pham, service engineer at Bay Digital, an Apple partner in San Francisco. "They haven't gotten it perfect, but they're heading in the right direction."

Even more interoperability improvements are planned for the 2005 release of Mac OS X 10.4, code-named Tiger. The client, for example, will offer easier authentication against Microsoft Active Directory, Apple executives said. One example: Better NTLM integration enabling Mac users to enter passwords in Windows environments. In addition, Apple will integrate a Windows NT migration tool in the upcoming Tiger server so that NT customers can easily migrate to a Mac OS X environment, Apple says.

While Microsoft and Apple share a common enemy in Linux, both have dropped the ball promoting the integration opportunities to their respective channels, partners say. Linux has dug into Microsoft's Windows sales on the server side and displaced Apple's coveted spot as the second leading supplier of operating-system software, according to research firm IDC.

"OS X has a strong argument for organizations that are vested in Microsoft workflow because it can complement those environments well," said Matthew Cohen, principal at Tekserve, an Apple authorized dealer in New York. "We have some sales reps approaching this slowly. We're just feeling it out," he said.

"It's more important for Apple to go after dealers who have a large Windows installed base and are mostly selling Windows," said David Lerner, owner of Tekserve. "These people speak the Windows language."

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