Macworld Products That IT Executives Had Better Know About

Apple's offerings traditionally are considered consumer products. The exhibit hall at this year's Macworld conference, however, had a stronger business influence, with hardware and software that may excite even the most buttoned-down corporate IT departments.

Macworld used to be a consumer show. Macs were used primarily by individual users and perhaps some small businesses. Enterprise adoption was limited to the "creatives" (the weird guys with the earring and noticeable hairdo, who nevertheless could create marvelous marketing material) and to school districts where Apple hardware had a long history.

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Divining the Future of the Client Desktop Environment  

You might not recognize that reputation by this year's conference in San Francisco. Oh sure, there's plenty to keep an end user happy, from mailing label software to a Mac Bible concordance app to podcast creation tools. You'll still find an excess of iPod sleeves. And your creative departments are sure to come back with a long list of software they demand you add to the IT budget, such as graphics applications and Web tools.

But growing acceptance of Macintosh computers in the enterprise is evident across the show floor, reflected in several products to help IT departments manage and control the computers and business software. I spent an afternoon on the exhibit floor— emphatically not covering everything— and found these products that will matter to IT managers (for evil or for good).

Hits to the Hardware Budget

Let's start with the MacBook Air because, really, it's impossible not to. Even if your shop is committed to Windows, you will have staff clamoring for a MacBook Air. It positively reeks of cool. Anyone who travels often will drool over the 3-pound computer that's so thin that it fits into a manila envelope. (Though your IT security department is probably worrying about that capability, right about now.)

Apple's MacBook Air
Apple's MacBook Air

You've probably already seen the specs on the $1,799 MacBook Air: five hours of battery life, the first display with mercury- and arsenic-free glass, 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1, a multitouch trackpad like the iPhone (double-tap to move a photo, for example), built-in iSight webcam, full-size keyboard. I want one. So did the crowds surrounding the 40 MacBook Airs on the exhibit floor. So will your staff.

It won't be the only Apple hardware you're asked to buy. IT departments may not be thrilled about supporting the iPhone, but apparently it's an inevitability. During his keynote address yesterday, Steve Jobs said, "IPhone in its first 90 days of shipping garnered almost 20 percent market share of the smartphone market." Four million iPhones have been sold in their 200 days of availability— 20,000 iPhones a day. If your company hasn't formulated a strategy for iPhone support, you'd better get on the stick.

PowerPoint, Project Management—and Devo?

Perhaps the best moment that captures Apple-meets-business was the spirited release of the new version of Microsoft Office for Macintosh. I won't belabor you with product specs, which are easily available and probably already on your desk (if not in the software budget report).

The entertainment for the Office launch party was the rock band Devo, who can still put on a darned good show. But there's something jarring about a backdrop screen show of PowerPoint slides while Microsoft people in red Devo flowerpot hats give away door prizes to a bevy of similarly clad Mac supporters. (Wait, does this mean that Microsoft Office is supporting RedHat? Oh, sorry, different hat.)

One curious trend on the Macworld show floor was a plethora of project management applications, to help managers track status, determine task dependencies and so on. This once overwhelming product category faded into ho-hum and minority status in the PC universe, but I must have seen five project management programs in three hours, including Merlin, FastTrack Schedule 9 and Project X. They're a little more "creative" than the staid project management applications of yore—at least two of them emphasized that they can import information from mind-mapping brainstorming tools—but overall I take this as a positive sign in Mac business adoption.

GridIron Flowspecializes in workflow, with a visual display of the relationships between files and assets, a calendar view to show what's been worked on, and show dependencies based on, say, files referenced in a website development project.

Virtualization, Security, Asset Management

Many of the business-savvy products intend to ease cross-platform stress. VMWare and Parallels both have booths showing off their virtualization solutions. WebEx is showing software to let Mac users access Windows PCs and vice versa. WebEx PCNow describes itself as "an on-demand, remote-access service for both desktop and wireless devices," but in my view it's a way for dedicated users to get to their preferred OS. It's a great option for seamless telecommuting, especially when you realize you left that important file back on the PC in the office.

Other products provide enterprise-class storage and security services. Atempo showed me its Atempo Live Backup, which offers continuous data protection for desktops and laptops "in self-serve software that's easy on IT administrators." The software runs in the background, silently capturing and tracking data modifications as they occur on network-connected computers. It automatically backs up data wherever the computer is located, whether in company HQ or at Starbucks. A management console lets you control restoration to and create disk images for all those distributed assets.

JAMF Software showed both its Caspar Suite 5.1 and the new Recon Suite. Both promise client management solutions for Macintosh systems, such as letting administrators deploy the Adobe Creative Suite using Adobe's installation technologies, and cross-platform inventory solutions across the company network.

Speaking of asset maintenance, quite a few firms are showing their infrastructure management apps for Macs. Asset Trustee, from FileWave, gives you a profile of company hardware and software whether on Mac OS, Windows or Linux. It shows patch status and security status, shows legal compliance with site licensing, and shows the current setup for any specific computer, even an offline laptop. They aren't the only such vendor at Macworld: I also visited with LANDesk for a peek at the LANDesk Management Suite and stopped by the Effigent booth to see Tivoli for Macintosh.

A friend made me stop by the Faronics booth, as the school system for which he works depends on its Deep Freeze Mac application. Even if a student totally screws up the school computer, my friend explained, the software lets administrators deliver a clean and consistent workstation on the next bootup.

Connectivity isn't ignored, either. Equinux demonstrated its VPN Tracker 5 for Macintosh, which supports IPsec standards, location awareness and multiple VPN tunnels. It's available in both personal (suitable for users who want to connect to the office network from home) and professional editions.

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