The Mac is back in the enterprise. Last year sales of Apple's flagship computer to business jumped substantially, growing 44 percent compared in Q3 with a paltry 5.3 percent increase for Windows machines, according to Needham & Co. Yet, its current operating system, known as Lion, is a disaster from a CIO's perspective.
Most IT departments wisely wait before unleashing an operating system upgrade on their companies. In Lion's case, it would be wiser to leave it alone entirely. It's already been through numerous updates, now shipping as OS X 7.2.3. And the company already has announced its successor, Mountain Lion, likely to be called OS X 8. But, if Apple doesn't address some serious problems in Lion, it will be a nightmare for IT. Here's why.
Once deployed, Lion's current features likely will cause a spike in pricey help desk calls, increase security risks, and cause no end of user frustrations--all of which will burden the IT department. For those companies who were using the previous Apple OS, known as Snow Leopard, and have upgraded, the problems will be the most acute because the gratuitous changes made to the software will confuse users and undoubtedly hurt their productivity.
Lost in Spaces
Let's start with the wonderful tool called Spaces. Introduced years ago as an option, it lets users create multiple Desktop views, or Spaces, where they could set up task-specific work environments from their System Preferences. For example, you could configure the number of Spaces you wanted--maybe one for collaboration apps, one for business-sensitive documents, another for games, and so on. It was a great enhancement.
In Lion, Spaces come out of the box set at three, instead of allowing a user or System Administrator to set them up. Worse, they're fixed so you cannot manage them from Systems Preferences. You need to alter them by hovering over a given Space. However, because you can no longer manage them from Systems Preferences, unless you have a Track Pad, a three-button mouse, or know the launch-key combination, you're stuck with three.
Dangerous Systems Preferences
In and of itself, that might not be more than a time-wasting IT problem when users, trained for years to using Systems Preferences, call the help desk asking how to manage them. However, combined with another inexplicable change, it increases an enterprise's security risks.
When you shut down a modern desktop computer users see a window telling then that their computer will shut down in XX seconds. Most people then hit return to make the shutdown immediate. But with Lion there's an added small button that is permanently clicked on and tells you that all of your currently opened applications, including those running in all of your Spaces, will launch again when you next turn the computer on.
That might be considered a convenience to someone inside Apple, but for IT departments, the change is a significant problem. First, business-sensitive data may be exposed to passersby as the previous evening's work gets opened the next morning. Also, it means that server-based applications that were running at shutdown will be launched at boot time, whether needed or not, most likely overloading servers every morning and causing network congestion. And, it also means users will need to wait for their Mac to process all of the apps before they can start any meaningful work.
This dubious change would not be so awful if you could permanently click the button off. But you cannot. Users have to check the button every time they shut down the machine. It's an utterly time-wasting, resource-wasting, security-risky "feature" that cannot be changed.
Another enterprise problem with Lion are a couple of updates in the Systems Preferences. The default settings for Location Services and automatically sending system data to Apple are turned on. That raises either increased security risks or set up costs when Lion-based Macs are deployed.
Full Screen Mode Full of Problems
Another change that is bound to increase calls to the Help Desk is the new full-screen mode for application windows. It's a great idea, especially for smaller screen laptops. But it's poorly implemented. That is, the icon for making a window take over the entire screen is on the window itself. However, when launched the icon disappears, so there's no obvious way to reduce the window's size. That would not be a problem if users could move the cursor down to the Dock to make the change as they can in every other situation. In full screen mode, though, access to the Dock is removed. To get out of full screen mode a user needs to go up to the invisible Menu bar, assuming they know how to find it, where the icon has inexplicably been relocated.
Apple's engineers and their managers seem to be making changes simply for the sake of change, not to improve the user experience. For example, what was once a bright blue scrollbar has become a difficult to discern gray one. And the live back/forward icons in windows are barely distinguishable from ones not illuminated.
Apparently, these changes are all being done to force march Apple's users to a world that blends iOS and Mac OS into a distant operating system dream world. But for now, it's a user experience nightmare that will cost IT plenty in terms of support while increasing security risks.
Here's One More Thing
If your users want to use iCloud to help them manage their documents, don't let them. It will only make matters worse for them and you with increased cries to the Help Desk. To move a document to iCloud a Mac user simply drags and drops it to the iWork section of their online account. But then it gets weird.
After you place, say, a Pages document in iWork from your Lion-based Mac, you need to grab another device running iOS 5, open the Pages app, and then click on the document in iCloud. Until you do that, the Pages file is dead. This head-scratching process is, to say the least, a kludge.
Oh, and, as Steve Jobs might have said, here's one more thing. Let's say you want to save your Pages document with a different name in iCloud so as not to confuse it from one on your Mac. As with every other productivity suite in memory, including Apple's the process is: Go to the Menu Bar, click File, and, wait, there's no longer a Save As& function. It was removed for the Lion version of Apple's iWork suite. Now, if you want to change a version of the document, you need to Duplicate, Rename it, and then refile it. Why? Who knows? But I'm sure the folks at Apple's Genius Bar will tell us it's good for us.
Mark Everett Hall has been using Macs since 1988 and was editor in chief of MacWeek from 1993-1996.