The next big revision of Apple's OS X operating system is due later in 2011, and it's following the cat theme with the name Lion—this much we know. We also already knew it was going to incorporate some big UI changes, and learn some serious lessons from iOS. Now we know a lot more, thanks to a teaser release from Apple launched at the same time as its MacBook refresh. There are some goodies in there, like a radical overhaul of the Mail app which is heavily influenced by the iPad's Mail app, and includes a "Conversations" tweak that makes email interchanges far easier to unravel. There's also a "Versions" feature throughout the OS that saves iterative changes you make to documents, which makes it far easier to undo errors or make-over pre-existing work.
But there's some bigger news hiding at the bottom of Apple's Lion teaser website, and it centers on OS X Lion Server edition. Though some commenters had worried Apple was letting its interest in enterprise users slide when it pulled its Mac X-blade server hardware, it looks like these fears are unfounded. If anything, OS X Lion—along with closely integrated iPhone, iPad, and Mac features—is going to see Apple make a very serious push for more enterprise marketshare.
This starts with the fact that OS X Lion Server edition (which brings all sorts of power-user and group-management powers to plain old OS X) isn't in fact a separate edition. It's actually integrated into OS X itself, and it's free. Apple highlights that there's a quick and easy setup process that configures any Mac as a server, providing "local and remote administration—for users, and groups, push notifications, file sharing, calendaring, mail, contacts, chat, Time Machine, VPN, web and wiki services."
Next up is a Profile Manager feature that's a one-stop shop for managing group-level user access across a company—it controls user privileges and files on Macs, and also "profile-based setup and management for ... iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices." The system integrates with "existing directory services and delivers automatic-over-the-air profile updates using the Apple Push Notification service" which makes it easy to manage how business users' mobile devices work as well as their PCs. There's also Wiki Server 3, which "makes it even easier to collaborate, share, and exchange information," which makes file sharing easier, and there's a new "Page Editor" which makes "customization a breeze."
Best of all there's a file-sharer for iPad, which facilitates easy wireless sharing of documents on the server from "applications such as Keynote, Numbers and Pages." Combined with the new AirDrop system (which is a semi-automatic service that's even augmented with profile photos from your address book—it's designed to be super-easy) all of these tweaks are aimed at facilitating team work on documents, and easy network-based collaborative working. Conscious of high-profile data leaks (and WikiLeaks-inspired fiascoes concerning private company data) Apple's also updated its FileVault service which offers sophisticated encryption on internal and external drives, and also offers a MobileMe-style system to instantaneously and remotely wipe a Mac's drives.
We know iPads have been selling into enterprise like hotcakes, and they're exciting interest at all sorts of levels—most recently the Australian government is evaluating their security, in preparation for making iPads a standard-issue device. The iPhone is also rapidly becoming a business smartphone of choice (particularly since iPhone iOS 4.0 launched)—and if Apple can integrate phones, tablets and PCs into one coherent system via Lion Server, it could become a serious challenger to Microsoft's enterprise business—and bring an all-bases-covered approach to enterprise users that even RIM can't match with its business-centric BlackBerry.
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