It could be that a real battle is brewing between operating systems. Apple will fire first by releasing Mac OS X 10.6, known as Snow Leopard, in September. Microsoft's response, Windows 7, will hit store shelves a few weeks later, on Oct. 22.
More and more, this battle is shaping up to be about more than the hearts and minds of consumers. After years of ignoring the needs of the enterprise, Apple seems to be making a concerted push into the business world. Even though Apple is calling Snow Leopard a refinement of 10.5, the Leopard release of OS X, and not a major overhaul, those improvements go a long way toward addressing the concerns of business users.
For starters, Snow Leopard has a lot of new stuff that will definitely appeal to corporate developers. It's a 64-bit operating system, so there is essentially no memory limit (there is a cap, but it's 16 billion gigabytes).
All of the operating system applications are now 64-bit as well, so they'll perform accordingly. In addition, Apple has integrated multicore support directly into the operating system so that developers don't have to deal with threads.
But the big news for business users is the introduction of direct operating system support for Exchange. Exchange is the No. 1 messaging system among corporate users, so lack of support has long been a sticking point for many users looking to use Macs in a corporate setting.
With Snow Leopard, that's no longer an issue. The operating system now has direct support for Exchange 2007 in iCal, Address book and Mail. Combined with Apple's iWork productivity suite and Safari 4 browser, which Apple has introduced in final form for Mac OS and Windows, Apple now offers business users full alternatives to Microsoft offerings for productivity tools and for Web applications.
(In another business-friendly move, Apple introduced hardware-integrated encryption for the iPhone. That isn't something many consumers asked for. The people clamoring for encryption tend to be CIOs and security managers.)
These are concrete developments that continue what by now has become a trend at Apple to boost the attractiveness of its products for businesses. The iPhone gained Exchange support in the past year, but other developments have been less obvious.
Today, for example, there's plenty of software for Macs, there are no more proprietary protocols, and the price of entry isn't much higher than what you'd pay for a system from any tier one PC vendor. Add in the migration from PowerPC to Intel processors, which has given Macs the ability to run Windows, and you see business objections melt away.
Microsoft's introduction of Windows 7 will give Apple a real opportunity to tell a business story. That's because a lot of businesses that never gave up Windows XP in favor of Vista are now going to face a major migration. That makes the coming months a good time for businesses to look at the alternatives, not just Apple, but also Linux and its many flavors.
I'm not suggesting that Apple is about to begin an all-out assault against Microsoft for the enterprise, or even that most enterprises would be better served deploying Mac OS than Windows. What I am saying is that with Apple finally taking the needs of business users seriously, it's time for enterprises to look at Apple's offerings the same way.