TV-PGAugust 1, 2003: Apple works overtime to stuff as much Microsoft compatibility into Panther as is humanly possible. Meanwhile, Pixar starts making the move to Mac OS X, and the Department of Homeland Security warns us all again that Windows will be the downfall of our nation...
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10.3: Plays Well With Others (8/1/03)

We know the signs have been there for a while, now, but it still just seems so odd to us: Apple is finally targeting big business, albeit in a less obvious (and probably less doomed) manner than that ill-fated mid-nineties "Power Macintosh: The Business Macintosh" campaign. Historically, this is not a playground in which Apple has gotten much time on the monkey bars. If competition in the operating system space is like applying for college, than the enterprise is Microsoft's dad-went-there-and-bought-them-a-gym safety school; the workplace is the one environment in which it just doesn't matter how horrible the Windows experience is to any given employee, because in the vast majority of cases, that employee is forced to use it anyway. The same goes for Office, and Outlook. If you don't like it, you can always quit and get a job being forced to use Windows and Office and Outlook somewhere else.

The fact is, Microsoft is so firmly entrenched in the enterprise market that nothing short of a tactical nuclear charge is likely to dislodge it anytime soon; Apple's only chance of infiltration is to play well with others and remove some of the arguments that Macs aren't compatible with "normal stuff." The better that Macs can integrate with existing Microsoft technologies, the better a chance they have of getting in the front door. We can already run Office, so that's pretty much covered, and Mac OS X has been slowly improving when it comes to working with Windows file-sharing protocols.

So here's the latest on the "Macs in big business" front: support for Exchange servers. For those of you blessed with ignorance of Exchange, don't bother trying to figure out what it is from Microsoft's own "overview" page, because you'd get a better handle on what Exchange actually does by reading the cleaning and care instructions for a George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine. Basically, Exchange is Microsoft's proprietary enterprise server that handles "messaging and collaboration," meaning corporate email, centralized contact lists, calendaring and scheduling, and, evidently, the timely and efficient dissemination of as many viruses as possible. And pretty soon Macs will be able to work with it without having to run the joke known as Outlook for Mac. (Note: there's apparently going to be Exchange support in an upcoming version of Entourage, too.)

See, Think Secret has an intriguing report on a number of Microsoft-compatibility technologies that just popped up in the most recent developer build of Mac OS X 10.3, aka Panther, as hinted previously by Mac OS Rumors. For instance, Apple's Mail application now not only handles POP and IMAP email, but also hooks into Exchange if necessary. And, as we mentioned in passing before, Address Book has a new preference option that allows it to "Synchronize with Exchange." That takes care of email and centralized addressing; the only thing missing is Exchange support in iCal, and you can bet that's probably coming soon.

But wait, it gets better! Our own shadowy and nigh-unimpeachable "sources close to the company" insist that Apple fully intends to go for the throat in 2004 with a Mac OS X upgrade that promises full compatibility with all major Windows viruses, configurable kernel panics (both frequency and appearance-- set 'em for thrice daily and make 'em white-text-on-blue for the version most compatible in a Windows environment), and other features that comply 100% with the most current Secret IT Department Technology Guidelines for Job Security. Come next year, Macs in "Enterprise Mode" will boast at least 80% of the unreliability and user-unfriendliness that's made Microsoft the darling of the enterprise IT world. Apple's shooting for upwards of 90%, but even we're a little skeptical that they could pull that off; Microsoft is the master, after all...

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A Match Made In Heaven (8/1/03)

Well, the issue of Pixar's chosen computing platform has been an ongoing plot thread for ages, now, but things are starting to take a turn for the inevitable. If you've followed the saga of Steve's other company and its desperate search to find a platform with which it can finally settle down with a house and a white picket fence and 2.4 computer-animated kids running around in the yard, you know that a few years back it relied on vast oceans of SGI and Sun UNIX systems to squeeze out its award-winning films, but in 2001 made a hefty switch to Linux workstations on the desktop-- which was itself a case of changing horses in mid-stream, since the studio was reportedly already in the process of switching to Windows NT. (Pause here for the involuntary shudder.) Talk about looking for love in all the wrong places...

Now it's two years later, and apparently even the infamous "render farms" have been redecorated; out went the Sun systems and in came the Linux servers, much to the chagrin of Macfolk who couldn't figure out why Xserves weren't in the picture. However, Pixar finally seems to be warming up to the idea of getting a little cozier with Mac OS X; MacRumors cites "a number of independent reports" that claim that while the render farms will stick with Linux for the time being (not terribly surprising, since Pixar just shelled out $1.8 million for its new servers less than six months ago), the advent of the Power Mac G5 may finally push Macs onto Pixarian desktops to run "internal applications and previsualization software."

So it looks to us like Pixar was just waiting for the G5 before it took the plunge-- and with G5-based Xserves obviously in the cards in the not-too-distant future, is it so out of the question that the company might call in Steve's employee discount to redo the server farms yet again? After all, Pixar is porting RenderMan to Mac OS X, and demonstrated a beta at SIGGRAPH last week. And since the 2.0 GHz G5 outperforms the 2.8 GHz Xeons in Pixar's "new" Intel servers (witness the nifty photo in this MacRumors forum post), what's $2 million for a stack of Xserves to a company that lives or dies by rendering speed? Heck, Finding Nemo alone has brought in over $313 million so far; surely by the time G5 Xserves hit the market, it'll be time to splurge a little.

In the meantime, the switch at the desktop level seems to be a lock; Pixar is already looking for a Mac OS X Migration Contractor. If you meet the required qualifications and Emeryville isn't too far out of your way, maybe you should consider applying. We've been assured that being a green spherical monster with one giant eye isn't actually a prerequisite for the position (although we bet it couldn't hurt).

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We Feel Safer And Safer (8/1/03)

Oh, here's a nice way to close out the week. Remember a couple of weeks ago when we pointed out the cruel yet oh-so-delectable irony of the Department of Homeland Security having signed a five-year, $90 million contract to outfit 140,000 government computers with Microsoft software-- known far and wide as the least secure software ever produced? Remember how the irony was compounded by the fact that, while the blood-- er, ink-- on that contract was still wet, Microsoft was forced to admit that "nearly all Windows software" contained a security hole so huge and gaping you could actually drive Australia through it? Well, it just keeps getting better...

Faithful viewer Dana Sutton pointed us toward an article in The Mercury News which reports that the DHS itself "has issued an unprecedented second warning" about said flaw-- you know, the flaw that it basically just paid $90 million for. Now, personally, we never even saw the first warning, but we tend to filter most of that stuff out, because trying to remember the color code for the threat levels gives us a headache ("Is Burnt Sienna higher or lower than Purple Mountain Majesty?"), but considering that this second warning is "unprecedented," apparently the DHS is really spooked by the idea that three-quarters of American computers are vulnerable to tech-savvy terrorists (or even bored kids) looking to "steal files, read emails, and launch wide-scale computer virus and 'worm' attacks that could seriously damage the Internet."

The article cites DHS spokesperson David Wray as justifying the second warning because "if hackers exploit the latest flaw, they could cause as much damage as the so-called Code Red virus two years ago," which caused "an estimated $2 billion in damage, primarily to U.S. businesses and government." But we're sure Microsoft cut 'em a check to cover the damages, right? Oh, wait, no-- it was the government who paid Microsoft $90 million for the privilege of using software that allows this kind of stuff to happen in the first place. Sorry, we just find that a little confusing.

As we said two weeks ago, a patch to fix the problem does exist, but the government wants to remind people that they actually need to download and apply it before it can do any good. Apparently Windows users who leave the auto-update feature on are pretty well covered, but those who don't "are at the most risk" because they just can't keep up; this is reportedly Microsoft's 100th such patch in the past 18 months. Yowza! We'll stop grumbling about the frequency of Security Updates from Apple, now. Besides, there are better ways to spend our time until terrorists exploit some other hole in Windows to seize control of the DHS network as a precursor to whatever nefarious scheme designed to bring us all to our knees. For instance, as faithful viewer Ben Dyer points out, Glider Pro is now free...

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