Apple made news on on lots of fronts at its Worldwide Developers’ Conference Monday, with the new iPhone 3GS, a $100 iPhone 3G, and major notebook announcements. Almost lost in the iPhone and Mac Book announcements were several moves that add up to an assault on the enterprise, long Apple’s weakest market.
The most intriguing announcement, partly because it was completely unexpected, is that Snow Leopard, the next version of the OS X operating system for Macs, will include built in support for Exchange, Microsoft’s enterprise mail and collaboration system. Snow Leopard is scheduled to ship in September and will cost $29 for a single copy or $49 for a family pack for up to five machines. And new iPhone features seem to take aim at both Microsoft and Research In Motion, maker of the enterprise-oriented BlackBerry.
If the Exchange support works as promised, it will be a very big deal. The difficulty of using Exchange, which is the dominant mail system in corporations and many other large organizations, has been a serious barrier to the adoption of Macs. You can use either the built-in OS X Mail program or Entourage, the mail component of Microsoft’s Office suite for Macs, to handle Exchange mail, but neither does it very well. The best solution has been to run a Windows virtual machine on your Mac, using Parallels or VMware software, and then use Microsoft Outlook. It works fine, but it’s a bit of a pain.
By building support for the Exchange infrastructure directly into the operating system, Apple has done something that Microsoft itself has never attempted. Apple says that in addition to reading mail, Mac users will see Exchange contacts in the Mac Address Book and Exchange calendar items in iCal. Integration extends to the ability to create meeting invitations simply by dragging contacts into an iCal appointment. You sure can't do that in Outlook.
The big question, of course, is how well this will really work. Exchange and it's Mail Application Program Interface a notoriously complicated beast and developers have long complained that MAPI's technical documentation is incomplete. Even developers within Microsoft grumble about the difficulty of working with it. So I'm going to reserve judgment until I actually see it working and learn what limitations it might have but make no mistake about it, Exchange support can be a game changer.
UPDATE: Apple Senior Vice-President Phil Schiller confirms that the Exchange integration in Snow Leopard will only work with the latest Exchange software, Exchange 2007.
Apple has also beefed up the security features of the iPhone, another big deal for the enterprise. One of the things that has long made BlackBerrys appealing to corporations has been the encryption on the device and the ability of managers to remotely and nearly instantly wipe the data off a lost or stolen device. Remote wipe has been possible on iPhones, but only through the use of an Exchange server. The new iPhone will offer full encryption and the ability to wipe a phone to factory condition through Apple's MobileMe service. If you have encrypted your iPhone, data backed up to the MobileMe service will also be encrypted, which will make the use of this third-party service more acceptable to corporations.
Apple still has a long ways to go in the Windows-dominated enterpise. But it took some giant steps toward closing the gap on June 8.