Apple Lion, App Store Moves Business User Friendly

The updated Lion operating system and new business app store represent significant advances in Apple's enterprise strategy.
Apple's products, while inventive and a big hit with consumers, have always caused more than a thimble full of consternation in the enterprise. Does anyone remember trying to get Novell servers to run AppleTalk and support the Mac name space? Or the debates about the merits of running TCP/IP, IPX/SPX, and AppleTalk on one network? Eventually, the merits of Apple's products win out and the technical issues get solved and everybody wins, most especially end users. And always, Apple.

Apple's expected release this week of the Lion operating system (Mac OS X 10.7), along with a new app program for businesses, solidifies Apple at the fulcrum of the "consumerization of IT" era. While Lion showcases the blending of mobile and desktop operating systems, which could lead to more end user demand for Apple products, the App Store Volume Purchase program will be a welcome sign to many in IT.

Mac OS X Lion hasn't impressed everyone, but I'm looking forward to it. There are concepts in the operating system that take what's already great about the Mac OS and make them even better. The current operating system, Snow Leopard, uses concepts like Spaces and Expose to help users organize running applications and get to them quicker, and Mission Control in Lion takes the Expose concept even further.

AirDrop is a way to wirelessly share files between systems without having to use inconvenient and insecure thumb drives. We'll have to see what the security experts say about that (or how the hackers try to exploit it), but the files are encrypted and there are mechanisms to control who can see your computer. You also have to be in close proximity in order to use AirDrop.

Lion also includes enhancements to iChat. FaceTime is now integrated so that users can talk among Macs, iPhones, and the iPad 2. And features like Resume (where you get right back to where you were after restarting your Mac) and AutoSave are tremendous productivity enhancements. Improvements to the email client (especially how it does message threading) and the Safari browser (reading lists) are also welcome changes.

Fabulous, you say. But who cares. All software gets updated, made better. We'll prepare ourselves for this new version, but why the fuss?

First, because unlike almost any other time in the history of the PC, whatever Apple does, others follow. Apple has done some really good things here, including blending in features of iOS (its mobile operating system) that have been popular with end users. Expect the same evolutions in Windows. Second, as end users buy iPads and iPhones, this blending could make those users more likely to want to use Apple computing products as well. Brace yourself.

Undoubtedly, it's what Apple wants. When I bought my iPad 2 at a local Apple store (no, Apple doesn't hand them out free to journalists), I made the mistake of saying I was going to use it for my job, within my company. I was quickly whisked to the in-store business account expert who said lots of things to me as I gazed at Apple accessories and thought about my dinner plans and wondered what color cover would look good (green, by the way). For weeks Apple sent me emails about business customer opportunities. I ignored them.

Turns out, though, that Apple is finally getting a little enterprise religion. Instead of accepting that people are using iPhones and iPads at work, the company is beginning to acknowledge and embrace it. Just as IT organizations have had to accept and accommodate these new productivity tools, and make room for them in their security and management and provisioning policies, Apple is now in lockstep.

On Wednesday, Apple sent out new details on its App Store Volume Purchasing for Business, a program whereby enterprise buyers can buy apps in volume (there doesn't seem to be any price discount for doing so, though), providing end users with redemption codes and even letting them manage the provisioning of those applications via a mobile device management system.

What's more, developers can write custom applications and distribute them through the Apple store. And enterprise buyers can interact with app developers privately and securely through the program.

This program will become a key component of most corporate mobile application strategies, as IT organizations try to bring some semblance of order to app downloading. Indeed, many mobile device management vendors, and some of the platform providers, are offering ways for companies to sandbox corporate and personal applications, and even provide a company-approved list of apps and a secure environment from which to download them.

That Apple is finally making all this easier is a welcome step for an overwhelmed IT community.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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