Will OS X Lion roar in the enterprise?

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

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Screen sharing and virtualization

Since the introduction of Leopard in 2007, OS X has supported screen sharing. Lion now allows simultaneous user sessions, both local and remote. In theory, this could allow the equivalent of a Mac terminal server, although Apple has forbidden that in its end user license agreement. The multiple user session capability could be used for remote support in which a help desk agent could log into a Mac using an admin account while a user is logged in with a more limited account. In practice, however, organizations are better off using more robust remote access and management tools.

Lion also is the first release to support virtualizing OS X itself. This has some potential for developers and users who need to test how their apps will work on virtualized OSes. Not surprisingly, Lion can be virtualized only on Apple hardware and a given Mac can run only two virtualized instances of Lion. Right now, no Mac virtualization software supports running Lion in a VM.

New options for policy banner at login

One change in Lion is that the login screen now sports a full-screen tweed-patterned background with a login dialog. This means that some of the previous ways of customizing the login screen have changed.

Probably the biggest customization any organization makes is to display an acceptable use policy, ideally requiring users to read/acknowledge it before they can log in. Apple has now built this ability into Lion (including the acknowledgement requirement). Simply place a text or rich text file into the /Library/Security/directory on the startup drive. No special tricks, hacks or client management tools are required.

User training and guidance

Providing training and education to both end users and support staff is a critical part of any upgrade or migration. Since Lion changes many long-standing areas of the Mac user interface, this is a particular concern for organizations that will be upgrading.

Providing basic user guidelines, a transition guide or an internal Web page or email with information about Lion is a must. It will help users make the transition more easily. And, of course, it's critical that support staff are familiar with Lion in general, as well as with how to troubleshoot any problems that arise.

Overall, is Lion good for the enterprise?

There's no doubt that Lion offers a unique update compared to past Mac OS X releases; it almost certainly represents the future of computing in many ways. Gestures will be used more and more to navigate through the OS and individual apps. Features like Versions and File Vault 2 offer increased data protection and security. And Mac users (old and new) have an interesting new set of interface options that should allow them to work in a manner that best suits them. All of those things (along with the evolutionary bumps to enterprise features like multiple Exchange account support) are benefits to users and businesses large and small.

Despite all the changes, Lion itself doesn't have to be a huge burden in terms of new enterprise processes. For organizations just now considering the Mac, Lion offers a broader set of initial testing and deployment options, particularly when it comes to client management. Those are good things in terms of fitting Macs into an organization -- and they're well worth consideration by companies already using Macs.

Overall, however, the OS itself may seem more evolutionary than revolutionary to IT. There are lots of useful updates and changes, but nothing that's a show-stopper.

Lion Server, on the other hand, has undergone a massive transformation. I'll be offering an in-depth look at it soon.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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