Will OS X Lion roar in the enterprise?

Despite changes to Apple's new OS, deployments need not be problematic

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AirDrop makes it easy for users to share files wirelessly -- over a TSL-encrypted, firewalled peer-to-peer connection -- without any back-end support. That means more user empowerment, less IT involvement and better data security than that offered by flash drives or public cloud services like Dropbox.

AirDrop

AirDrop makes it easy for users to share files wirelessly ]over a TSL-encrypted, firewalled peer-to-peer connection without back-end support. (See full visual tour.)

The problem is that AirDrop's overall usefulness breaks down quickly in most environments. First off, Macs are typically a minority population at most companies -- and Lion may not be supported or deployed to that already small group. That makes it a novel solution usable for a handful of staff and/or departments at best.

A second limitation is that AirDrop functions on a completely ad-hoc basis with Lion-equipped AirDrop-capable Macs locating each other by proximity rather than over a corporate network. As long as two Macs are within range of each other's Wi-Fi hardware, they can establish an AirDrop connection, regardless of what, if any, network they're using. This makes AirDrop suitable only for short-range file-sharing -- a tool that's limited when compared to network file shares, cloud storage, and even email.

A final concern is that AirDrop is completely beyond the control of any network or systems administrator. While it may be an overall secure solution, its use could violate internal security policies or government-mandated privacy and security regulations.

As much as I'd like to call AirDrop a major advance for OS X in the enterprise, it really isn't at this point. In small business and education, I think it has a lot of potential, but unless Apple opens it to other platforms and/or offers to scale it up (perhaps by integration with other technologies like Active Directory or Windows DFS) its real use in the enterprise is likely to be limited.

Is Versions a good thing?

Versions and its companion Auto Save are great features in Lion. Although not enterprise-oriented, they certainly speak to the age-old help desk calls of "XYZ crashed while I was working on this document and I lost everything..." and "I deleted a bunch of content in XYZ and I need to get it back if I can." That Versions is a big advantage to Lion is without question. But does it create any particular storage concerns for businesses?

Apple built Versions using much the same approach as its Time Machine backup app. All versions of a file exist within that file, meaning you need not fear multiple iterations of the same file popping up on local, network or removable storage.

What about file size? As with Time Machine, an entire copy of the file isn't stored for each separate version. The file system notes the specific data in the file that has changed each time Auto Save is triggered (which appears to be with almost any change to a document's contents as well as when it's opened or closed). As a result, the final file may be slightly larger if notable amounts of content have been trimmed between one version and the finished product since the trimmed data will still be included. Most times, the difference won't be significant.

In this case, Versions has the potential to be a real aid for end users -- as long as support personnel are familiar with the feature and can walk users through it -- making it a plus for the enterprise. The only real downside may be that users will assume this feature is supported by every application. It's not. Third-party apps will have to be updated to take advantage of the feature.

Versions

For apps that support it, Versions allows you to access earlier versions of a document a la Time Machine. (See full visual tour.)

Exchange and Active Directory support

An important issue for Macs in most enterprises is how well they integrate with Microsoft's Active Directory (AD) service and Exchange environment. Apple has been building some level of AD support into OS X for more than a decade; Lion continues that tradition. In fact, Lion expands support somewhat when it comes to multi-domain forests -- including full support for users with identical account names in different domains within the same forest -- and with improved site and subnet support when choosing which domain controllers and global catalogs to rely on.

Exchange support has improved, particularly in that multiple Exchange accounts are now supported by Apple's default Mail, Address Book and iCal applications. Also supported are several server-side actions, most notably the ability to configure out-of-office auto-responses, though there are still some limitations when it comes to features like personal folders.

As with past releases, it's worth noting that while Apple has done a very solid job with Active Directory support, there are also third-party tools available, including those from Thursby, Centrify, and BeyondTrust (formerly LikeWise) that offer further AD integration, including client management (more about this in a minute) and DFS browsing.

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