Mac engineers lament Snow Leopard in the enterprise

For months, Mac engineers across the country worked to certify Snow Leopard in their enterprise computing environments for an anticipated late September release. When Snow Leopard hit the market a month early, they were duly blindsided.

Consequently, some engineers decided not to install Snow Leopard right after its release because they knew certain critical, third-party software wouldn't be able to run on it. Now they're bracing for the backlash from executives who may demand Snow Leopard on their Mac machines.

"We were, like many, surprised by the accelerated release," says a Mac engineer speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized by his employer to discuss tech vendors.

[ Want to install Snow Leopard? Here's what you need to know. | Check out five reasons to upgrade to Snow Leopard now. ]

Even though Mac OS X installed user base has tripled in the last two years, from 25 million to nearly 75 million, the number of Macs in the enterprise still represents a paltry sum because they're costly and not easy to support. One of the nightmares of managing Macs in the enterprise, as opposed to Windows machines, is the lack of communication and support coming out of Cupertino.

Mac engineers and software developers are not given enough advance notice to certify Apple products; they get their hands on new Apple products along with everyone else, as part of Apple's "secrecy" marketing strategy to create mystery and excitement around new releases. Given Apple's lack of product lifecycle support and global account management, market researcher Gartner doesn't recommend Apple products in the enterprise.

With Snow Leopard, another Mac engineer, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says bringing Snow Leopard to corporate Macs was simply out of the question. "We are not working furiously" to certify the Mac OS X build on Snow Leopard, the engineer says. "Snow Leopard is not compatible with our corporate antivirus standard or with ADmitMac, a third-party used by some business units."

Another Mac engineer agrees that the biggest hurdle with Snow Leopard is that some third-party software isn't ready to run on the new OS. For Snow Leopard to work at his company, he says, PGP and Tivoli Storage Manager require tweaks. "The software vendors are by no means the bearer of fault here," the Mac engineer says. "They are working on fixes but were looking towards the end of September, not August."

So what third-party software is ready for Snow Leopard? Mac engineers (and Mac users) can go to Snow Leopard Wiki.dot to learn and share with peers the realities of supporting Snow Leopard in the enterprise. The wiki, which updates regularly, lists some 1,300 Mac applications and versions of applications and rates their compatibility with Snow Leopard.

To be fair, the vast majority of Mac apps have a green check mark by their names, meaning that they run on Snow Leopard without any problems. But there are some significant enterprise-type apps experiencing glitches.

Adobe Creative Suite 3, for instance, has minor bugs in Photoshop and Dreamweaver when running on Snow Leopard, whereas Adobe Creative Suite 4 runs just fine. "As far as Adobe, we are seeing an overall shift of software vendors supporting products for shorter periods of time once new products are out," a Mac engineer says. "This does not make it right, but in today's competitive market it's the direction support is going."

Snow Leopard Wiki.dot is a tremendous resource for Mac engineers dealing with the latest Mac OS. For Apple Server Admin Tools, a contributor on the wiki suggests installing Server Admin tools v10.6 or greater to administer Mac OS X Server 10.5 and 10.6. Those with Cisco VPN Client will need to reinstall the client and turn off certain server features to get it to run on Snow Leopard.

For the Mac engineer who doesn't plan on upgrading to Snow Leopard, this decision will likely be met with considerable resistance from Mac users throughout the company. Top execs might challenge the decision or install Snow Leopard on their own. Snow Leopard's Exchange support, for instance, might lead to rogue users bringing in Macs through the back door and linking to corporate networks more seamlessly, says Gartner analyst Michael Silver.

"One of the challenges for integrating Apple products in a corporate environment is this must-upgrade-now culture," the Mac engineer says, referring to Mac users and developers. "Many of the features touted in Snow Leopard simply do not apply to our environment. We run into this with third-party vendors who support Apple as well. The issue is less about technology and more about culture."

Are you bringing Snow Leopard to the enterprise? Send me an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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