Apple’s Panther makes room for Windows on network

IT managers might view the two operating systems as oil and water, but Apple has made changes to its latest OS X release it says will make it easier to administrate both Mac and Windows systems on the same network.

“”We know we have customers that exist in a multi-system environment. The idea

is to make the client fit in without changing anything on the Windows back end,”” Bruce Hough, consulting engineer with Apple Canada in Markham, Ont. said during a briefing this week.

Hough said it is also a way to get Apple “”in the back door”” of many companies that have been reluctant to buy the products, believing their existing Windows environments could not work seamlessly with Mac products.

While many of the features promoting Windows network interoperability were available in Jaguar, certain functions are easier to make happen in Panther, the latest release of Macintosh’s OS X (10.3).

The latest release has built-in support for Active Directory, Microsoft Kerberos authentication, Windows server-based home directories, Exchange mail and address book, IPSec-based secure remote VPN connections and printing.

Hough says Macs running Panther working on a Windows network will have the ability to access mail by talking directly to the Exchange server. As well, any printer shared off a Windows server shows up in the print utility for use. Powerbook users in a Windows-centric company can also tie into the VPN network.

“”As the user, to the IT people I look like a Windows client but I have the benefits of OS X,”” said Hough.

When it comes to the Mac and Windows worlds playing harmoniously in the same sandbox, Roger Kay, vice-president of client computing with Framingham Mass.-based IDC says both sides should be given credit for making it happen.

“”Apple’s been working on Windows compatibility on a number of different fronts and Microsoft has also contributed to compatibility efforts. I think the goal in the intermediate term is to make the Macintosh a client of indifference or one that is tolerated on the corporate network. It can have basic services and that is a pretty good thing for a lot of corporate environments,”” said Kay.

Panther is the fourth release of the Mac OS in three and a half years. As of October there were 8.5 million active users of OS X worldwide (there are 27 million total users globally) up from 6.9 million in June of 2003.

According to IDC Canada, Apple had about three per cent desktop OS share for Canada in 2002.

Kay says Panther, which claims to have 150 new features, has “”some marginal improvement of existing features”” but it’s up to customers to determine whether they want to invest the $180 in the upgrade.

“”Just like in the Windows world, you can just say ‘No.’ As a user you can say ‘I will stick with what I’ve got,'”” he said.

On the security front, Panther includes several improvements over the the last edition (just days after shipping Panther, another patch was released), but to date Apple hasn’t indicated any intention to release patches for previous versions.

“”I think you’ll see that they will eventually patch (previous issues), they will be pressured to support it given the recurrence of the OS updates they’re spitting out. Right now they are trying to iron things out and it would be common sense and good PR to sort it out,”” said Eddie Chan, research analyst for IDC’s Canadian mobile and personal computing programs.

Many of the functions in Panther are improvements on items that were available in Jaguar. Others are ease of use functions created to save time such as Exposé, a feature that allows users who typically work on multiple applications onscreen at once, clear the screen with a series of function keystrokes.

“”Screen clutter is a big problem. This is for people who have a screen full of open applications and they want to get to a specific window at once,”” said Hough.

For example, by hitting the F9 key, every open window shrinks and is spread to take up a smaller portion of the desktop. F10 shows the windows of the current application you are working in only i.e. Photoshop; and F11 sends all applications to the sides of the screen, showing only the desktop surface.

For applications such as Adobe Photoshop that have palettes, Exposé fades them out when you choose to push Photoshop to the background.

Exposé can also be executed by moving the mouse to a corner of the screen (using a set-up menu you decide which corners activate which views)

This function is made possible by the Mac OS X Quartz graphic engine for two-dimensional manipulation architecture.

There have been no improvements made to Safari, the OS X browser, although Hough said Apple is working on it all the time. He did acknowledge that customers have indicated there are problems viewing some sites using Safari. Of particular concern is the CIBC online banking Web site that does not function properly in Safari for Apple users.

“”It is a problem for those who still have to run Explorer along with Safari,”” he said.

Panther was released Oct. 24 and Hough says sales have been brisk, with one university bookstore selling out of its 20 copies in the first two hours, Hough said.

The price is $179 (Cdn) or $279 for a family pack licence (up to five). Apple also offers Mac OSX volume licenses and a maintenance package which includes all upgrades for three years. (Hough pointed out that Apple provided six free upgrades for 10.1)

Users will need a Power PC G3 or higher with 128 MB of RAM.

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