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Keep up with the 3000, and Vladimir

Apple community grows Unix alternative

 IWorkMacsThis was the month that Apple left its community to accomplish the work. At this year's MacWorld Apple talked very little about its hardware and operating environment. For a conference that VP Philip Schiller said was "all about the Mac," not much was revealed about hardware or the operating environment, those things that make up the heart and soul of a computer. The news at this annual show from the vendor revolved around software suites called iLife and iWork, as well as the cost of music and a new laptop. It was the first MacWorld without a Steve Jobs address in 10 years, and the lack of dazzle could be felt and found all through the halls and the media reports.

But just because the vendor here is focused on other business opportunity doesn't mean the Mac world isn't growing its enterprise abilities. Apple's attitude toward enterprise Mac use has been a lot like HP's approach to using 3000s through the 1990s. "We know the customers use our products for these classic business needs, but we're more involved in products that touch millions." Consumer is the siren call, both then and now. You could have said it about HP as it pursued the PC business during the late '90s, or about Apple today, shining its light on games and mobile applications that can run on millions of iPhones.

Meanwhile, back in the deeper reaches of the Moscone Center, Apple's third parties serve the needs of business owners and large organizations using the Mac. It's easy to forget that under its skin, the Mac OS is Unix, the same base environment HP promotes for business users. You get a peek at that Big User community when you see something like Network Attached Storage vendors offering complete RAID 5 implementations. Promise Technology rolls out a new NAS unit with 4 TB of RAID storage for $700 here, and one of the two major implementations is for site backups.

The other side of the Promise user base is media producers and consumers. At a HP trade show you wouldn't find a 50-inch flatscreen running a movie delivered off a 4-bay Direct Attached Storage unit. Product manager Billy Harrison said the company was proud to have solved the challenge of showing video at speeds that match the movie-in-a-theatre experience.

So is MacWorld for music and movie freaks, or admins who need to steward a corporation's licenses and configurations across dozens to hundreds of client systems? It's both, but Apple's gaming and media focus and phone-pumping message just shows the vendor can only embrace one kind of customer at a circus like this one.

There are business tools a-plenty out on this floor. Ipevo, the communication device arm of Skype, showed off new Skype phones and conference call devices — right alongside a pair of 5x7 digital displays which use your Mac to fetch photos and news headlines and blog updates, so you can keep up with information without stretching open another browser window. There's a Wireless Digital Frame, the Kaleido R7, that updates itself with RSS feeds from Web sites. Ipevo has been behind the scenes at Skype, but when the company rolls out a USB digital display for Internet Widgets -- a device that pushes data without interrupting workflow on the desktop client -- it expands the concept of tools a company needs to make its users productive.

The expo floor here bristles with offerings to promote the iPod and now the iPhone. HP takes space at MacWorld to tout its printer offerings. But there's also a company in the small developer mini-booths, Widget Press, offering ModelBaker. It builds Web, iPhone, iPod and Google Android applications with minimal programming skills required. ModelBaker takes the back-end app data of an enterprise and gives it a conduit to the most mobile of computers, the iPhone. Years ago companies experimented with tablet computers as a way to empower sales forces. Widgets on iPhones and Android phones prove that concept, using the fastest growing mobile devices in the industry, handheld phones.

HP makes it clear to the 3000 customer that relying on MPE/iX is, in the vendor's opinion, not a viable option compared to the riches of Unix or Windows. Maybe HP is correct in a way the vendor doesn't intend, like Apple is correct to make this conference the last one it will attend. Marketplaces and communities have visions that grow beyond a vendor's intentions. If Unix is good, why not a Unix with a polished interface and programs as powerful as The Casper Suite from JAMF Software to manage Mac clients: Patch mangement, software distribution, settings and licensing management tools?