Apple, Microsoft Partners Find Common Ground

So says Technology Execution Network Corp., a Microsoft solution provider and Apple Authorized Dealer based in Needham, Mass., which says the latest versions of the Unix-based Macintosh OSX operating system code-named "Panther" significantly enhances the ability for the Mac client and server to integrate with Microsoft's Active Directory and Windows server environment.

Apple has offered support for Microsoft's Windows for sometime but only in the last few releases has the compatibility reached a point where it can be used practically to plug and play Apple pieces into a Windows network, he said.

Technology Execution Network Corp. (TENCorp) spends roughly 50 hours to fully integrate the solution, a nice revenue opportunity for service providers who seize the day, according to Michael Healey, president of TENCorp., which has nailed more than five consulting gigs integrating Mac OSX systems into Windows networks.

"Windows support has been there for some time, but people weren't convinced that they worked together. Now they do," Healey said. "The compatibility was there technically before but now it's usable. Now we can make money."

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MAC OSX version 10.3 upgrade, known as "Panther" and released last October, took significant interoperability strides by ensuring that Mac OSX systems could share files, printers and network services with Windows users. It also offered support for Microsoft Exchange in the OSX Mail and Address Book. Last month, Apple released a minor update to that, Mac OSX Version 10.3.5, which offered improved support for NTFS formatted volumes and improved reliability of user logins and mounting of home directories in a networked environment. These improvements help Apple and Microsoft dealers to better integrate employees running MAC OSX with Windows-based PCs and server.

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

Another Apple dealer on the East Coast concurred. "It is a noted improvement. It offers better integration with Active Directory and moves Mac OSX higher up into the enterprise," said Matthew Cohen, principal at Tekserve, an Apple Authorized Dealer in New York, about the August update.

These capabilities, combined with forthcoming interoperability improvements planned for the next major MAC OSX Version 4 upgrade code named "Tiger" in 2005, can mean lucrative consulting gigs for Apple and Microsoft partners, and can translate into financial and competitive gains for both vendors, Healey said. Working interoperability not only gives Apple a stronger leg into the corporate world but also gives Microsoft an opportunity to push a friendly alternative to Linux to customers who may want to explore with open source software or need high-end clustering. Mac OSX is Unix-based and includes many popular open source components.

Apple said it has focused heavily on providing interoperability with Linux and Unix customers and has made significant strides with Windows as of late. And that will improve with the debut of Mac OSX Version 4, code-named Tiger, Apple says.

First, the Mac OSX Version 4 client will offer enhanced ability to authenticate against Microsoft Active Directory, Apple executives said. For instance, the software will offer better NTLM integration so Mac users can use passwords in Windows environments.

"It's another way of integration and allows us to sell Mac clients and servers better in the Windows environment and opens up new opportunities for those in the Mac world because administration is so much easier," said Brian Croll, senior director of system software product marketing at Apple.

Additionally, Apple will integrate a Windows NT migration tool in the upcoming Tiger Server to enable NT customers to easily migrate to a MAC OSX environment. "Active Directory is important and we see a lot of people still using NT who see a pretty big transition ahead of them," Croll said.

But the vendors have dropped the ball promoting the opportunity to their respective channels, even though they share a common enemy in Linux, solution providers claim. The fast growth of Linux has hurt Microsoft's Windows sales on the server side and displaced Apple's coveted spot as the second leading supplier of operating system desktop software.

Healey said the two vendors signed a major alliance in 1997 and have collaborated on Office products and interoperability, but remain staunch competitors on the OS side who have done little to promote the benefits to partners.

Croll said Apple has promoted Windows interoperability heavily during launches of various versions of MAC OSX, but he is not aware of the company's channel strategy. A spokesman for Apple's channel organization was not available for comment.

"On the Apple side, they don't know anything about the PC world. Apple's in the world of Apple. They're trying to pull it all together but no on has the first-hand experience on how to get this together except for resellers," Bay Digital's Pham said. "Marketing that message makes sense, and I can see that happening but Apple doesn't know enough about it to push it."

Tekserve, an Apple Specialist in New York City, has provided Active Directory integration services for its Mac OSX customers for a while but acknowledged the improvements in Mac OSX Version 3.5 encourage more integration. Executives said Apple is pitching the Windows interoperability to its Apple dealer network and advising its Apple Specialists to go after more NT migration deals since Microsoft is retiring support for NT by year's end.

Tekserve envisions strong opportunities for selling cross-platform, standards-based Mac OSX xServer RAIDs and xSANs in the Windows environment.

"The OSX has a strong argument for organizations that are heavily vested in Microsoft workflow because it can complement those environments well. It is a great opportunity for Apple to jump in and play with those organizations, but are people selling it that way? Probably not," said Tekserve's Cohen, noting Apple doesn't charge for client access licenses. "We have some sales reps approaching this slowly and we're talking to customers, financial institutions and traditional businesses we can get involved. But we're just feeling it out."

Given the size of the Windows installed base, Apple might have better luck pitching the benefits to Microsoft's channel partners, his colleague 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, founder and owner of Tekserve, which employs 125 people. "These people speak the Windows language."

TENCorp.'s Healey couldn't agree more. "But it's a weird schism for Apple and Microsoft," said Healey, who provides Windows and Macintosh services. "Apple has a big deal opportunity, and for Microsoft it's a stop gap for Linux. It's an interesting opportunity, but Microsoft can't pitch it, and Apple can't pitch it."