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Apple and the corporate world

New applications are aimed at Mac users in the business sector. Recently, Apple launched a concerted effort to get a piece of the corporate/enterprise market (about time, some would say). The company hopes that Mac OS X, its Xserve rack-mountable server, and the some new “i applications” will help the company make some serious inroads into the world of big business.

iSync and iCal are two additions to Apple’s “i” line of applications that are bundled with its software. Both were introduced at July’s MacWorld Conference & Expo in New York.

The new iSync tool is designed to synchronize address books and calendars between Macs and the new generation of Bluetooth-enabled GPRS mobile phones, PalmOS devices, and iPods. It ensures that address books and calendars flow from users’ Macs to all of their digital devices and back again.

iSync will be available as a free download starting this September and requires Mac OS X version 10.2 (aka Jaguar). A list of iSync-compatible devices is available online here.

iCal has built-in Internet sharing that lets you manage multiple calendars, share them over the Internet, and automatically keep them updated. You can publish your iCal calendars on the Web, so others can subscribe and view them in iCal on their own Macs. In addition, iCal can automatically check for updates to imported calendars on a regular basis, so shared calendars are always up to date.

In addition, Apple’s new iSync lets you sync your iCal calendars with the new generation of Bluetooth-enabled devices for access to their most current address books and calendars on the go. iCal will also be available as a free download this September and requires Mac OS X version 10.2. Publishing calendars on the Internet requires a .Mac membership or a WebDAV server. You can host your iCal calendar on the new .Mac service.

However, Apple alone can’t fill in all the gaps in the Mac enterprise effort. After all, it’s a market on which Microsoft and Windows have a stranglehold. But several third parties have entered the fray. One such company is SysteMacs of Mountain View, Calif., which has released a product called boxIT that should boost Apple’s business credibility.

boxIT lets Macs have system software and applications instantly installed from a remote computer. It also offers backup and restore features.

With boxIT, a disk image of a customized Mac with a properly configured operating system and applications is copied to an external FireWire, USB, or SCSI device. This image can be deployed to an unlimited number of user computers simultaneously. Ken Easterby, president and cofounder of systeMacs, says systeMac’s proprietary software can help Macs penetrate deeper into large businesses.

“[Backup and restore] is a common function in the PC world, but hasn’t been done with Macs,” Easterby says. “This was a big gap in the curve between PCs and Macs, and we wanted to fill the need. boxIT is the only solution available that empowers Mac users and IT Professionals to effectively manage their own Mac systems, saving them money which would normally be spent on consultant fees.” Using the product, system software and applications can be installed on a Mac or multiple Macs, in less than an hour, Easterby says. Under normal conditions, this process can take from three to five hours per computer.

The disc image “freezes” an image of a Mac’s operating system, applications, system settings, and preferences. It doesn’t freeze data such as word-processing files because such info is “dynamic and constantly changing,” Easterby says.

“The idea is to make one machine look like another and do it more quickly than you can normally do,” Easterby said. “It’s also useful when problems arise on a machine. There’s no troubleshooting at all; boxIT simply restores the computer to a previous state.”

Because it’s completely custom-built, boxIT is an expensive solution. When it’s first implemented, SysteMac does a systems analysis database in FileMaker Pro. After that, it can give an estimate on what it will cost to deploy. However, Easterby claims that the solution can save a company up to 60 percent in time and money. Though it’s hard to peg a typical customer for the product, he said boxIT is suited to enterprises that have more than 100 Macs.

Hewlett-Packard, Sybase, and Oracle also have announced plans to make their server and database-management software compatible with Mac OS X this year. These commitments were made because of the Xserve, Apple’s first dedicated server software since 1997, when the company discontinued its AIX-based Network Server.

In September, Sybase released ASE 12.5, the first major enterprise-class relational database management system for Mac OS X developers. Until now, Mac users have been overlooked by enterprise-level RDBMS software, according to Raj Nathan of Sybase’s Enterprise Solutions Division. Sybase ASE 12.5 will include the XML Management Package, which provides developers with support for Java and XML. HP’s and Oracle’s solutions are expected before the end of the year.

Meeting Maker Inc. offers Meetingmaker, a market-driven business tool that provides cross-platform, Internet-based collaborative scheduling. It’s a scalable IP-based system that supports concurrent users on a range of computing platforms. In addition to native clients for Mac (including Mac OS X), Windows, and Unix operating systems, Meetingmaker offers a Java client and Palm synchronization for mobile users of handheld devices.

Aladdin Systems offers StuffIt Express Enterprise Edition. Designed as a business automation solution, it allows users to set up a customer-specific “Express Box” that’s designed to tackle all aspects of Internet/intranet data delivery tasks. These include data compression, encryption, uploading files to password-protected FTP sites, and e-mailing notification. Express boxes can also be created and sent to customers so that returning or sending files to the business is simplified.

StuffIt Express Enterprise Edition offers the option of executing tasks at scheduled times when network traffic is lower. It also provides a number of security features. For example, you can create and send Express Boxes that give customers limited access to designated secure areas of FTP sites. The boxes can also be configured to expire after a specific date, or after being used a certain number of times. In July, FrontBase Inc. announced support for QuickTime streaming video directly from its database software, FrontBase Relational Database Server 3.5. FrontBase bills its software as “the only database available for Mac OS X that can scale seamlessly from a personal machine to true enterprise levels,” and says the software supports features like clustering, replication, hot backup and more. The company has extended Apple’s open-source QuickTime Streaming Server to allow the server to retrieve movie data directly from the database, and send it faster than via the file system. For developers who want to integrate multimedia applications with the features of a database server, FrontBase has also created an extension to Mac OS X’s Cocoa framework that supports integration of QuickTime.

LSVi, a company that develops advanced IT systems management software, recently released version 3 of Enterprise Inventory Auditor (EIA). The latest version provides an automated inventory and usage-tracking tool for distributed computing systems.

EIA offers companies historical tracking of inventory and usage, customizable auditing, broad platform support and ease of deployment, according to Stan Pomerantz, president and CEO of LSVi. With the new version, IT organizations can gather physical asset information across a corporate enterprise and store it in a relational database repository.

Data about auto-discovery and history of asset changes are delivered via a Web-based browser tool. Unfortunately, pricing isn’t available on the LSVi Web site. If you’re interested in EIA 3, you’ll have to fill out an online form, and a company rep will call you.

MIR3 Inc., a company that offers enterprise communication software, has released MIRlogic, a rule-based, intelligent event notification system that works with Mac OS X. MIRlogic automates the transmission of mission-critical information by determining the critical path for information delivery and ensuring notifications are delivered to the right person or group, on the right communication device. MIRlogic supports all major platforms on the server side and just about any platform on the client side. MIRlogic works with all wireless protocols (CDMA, TDMA, GSM, GPRS, Wi-Fi) to interface with all mobile communication devices. Details and pricing can be found at the MIR3 Web site.

Halcyon Software has a beta version of its iNET technology available. It’s the first commercially available Java-based implementation of the Microsoft .NET framework. iNET includes an IL2JAVA converter, which generates Java class files or Java source code from the Microsoft .NET Intermediate Language (IL). iNET also provides a full Java implementation of the .NET class libraries that runs on all Java-enabled platforms, including Mac OS X.

The iNET technology offers Microsoft VisualStudio.NET developers an immediate solution to deploy their Client/Server applications and Web Services to any platform. With it you can develop in .NET and deploy anywhere. Pricing for iNET licenses hasn’t yet been determined. However, a free evaluation download of the iNET beta release is available from the Halcyon Web site.

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