Major operating system releases are typically painful for enterprise administrators. Users often need to learn new ways of performing the same rote actions. Menus move. Commonly accessed applications change locations. Vastly faster computers are required to run the upgrade.
Thankfully, that won't be the case with Mac OS X Lion. The OS, in fact, will simplify enterprise administrators' lives. Here's why.
The Mac App Store
When it's released in the summer of 2011, Lion (Apple's eighth iteration of its acclaimed Mac OS X platform) will include the Mac App Store by default. One simple icon, a new addition to the Dock, means enterprise administrators can begin delegating to end users some of the responsibility for obtaining, installing and updating applications. Over time, the industry may find online application delivery and maintenance becomes the norm.
As Apple's ads say, there are no more boxes, no more disks. Users can begin using new applications with a single click, thanks to one-click downloads and installation. Further, apps are browsable by category. Sample screen shots are available, and users can read reviews prior to purchase or even download and install software to test a program.
New programs install straight to the Dock, which further simplifies use and likely reduces calls to IT for support. Updates are then managed through the App Store, too, which notifies users when updates are available and makes upgrade and patch management easy, thereby further reducing enterprise administrators' application maintenance and patching responsibilities.
Despite all those advantages and resulting efficiencies, however, there's an even greater benefit. When end users purchase new Macs (or replace lost, failed or older systems), applications can be downloaded again on to multiple machines. No repurchase is required, no installation media must be tracked down and no license keys must be dug out of the back of file cabinets.
If you disagree that the Mac App Store is another genuine Apple innovation, just wait. When Microsoft clumsily deploys a new Windows App Store, it'll claim the feature as revolutionary. Apple's already there.
The new OS will also include Launchpad, a new feature that streamlines accessing applications and system use. The new Lion Dock will include a Launchpad icon. Launchpad removes open windows from view in favor of a full-screen display of application icons, thereby mimicking the hugely popular iPhone and iPad user interfaces. Thus, administrators (particularly in large environments) should find themselves providing less application support. Users, already comfortable with using iPhones and iPads, will find the same application interface in use with the new Lion OS. And, just as applications purchased online automatically appear on the iPhone and iPad, they'll now appear automatically within the Launchpad space.
Full -screen apps
Apple is also touting Lion's support for full screen applications. The new OS permits users to interact with their Mac desktops and laptops the same way they do with their iPhones and iPads.
With millions upon millions of iPad and iPhone units sold, Apple engineers have learned their lesson. New ways of interacting with traditional computers arrives with Lion. Applications can now be run in new full screen modes, thereby reducing distractions and providing a more immersive experience. Other running applications are removed from view, just as on iPhones and iPads, with the ability to switch between modes or applications just a gesture away. These changes, too, should reduce IT department support requirements, as users are already familiar with the way in which Lion will simplify computing and application use.
Enterprise administrators will also hear much discussion of Mac OS X Lion's Mission Control feature. Mac users possess widely varying preferences regarding the ways in which they interact with their computers. Some use Spaces (which groups apps together), while others prefer Expose (which provides quick access to all open windows). Still others leverage Mac's Dashboard, which collects various gadgets within a single window.
Mission Control helps all Mac users, regardless of personal preference, cut through the clutter. The new feature reveals what's running, including applications, Dashboard, Expose and Spaces information and more. Accessed using a swipe gesture, Mission Control provides users with a unified view of their computer's active programs and interfaces, which means enterprise administrators have yet another tool for helping end users better navigate their own systems without requiring help desk interaction.
Apple hasn't yet released system requirements for Mac OS X Lion. If the company's latest iLife suite (as the last-released major Apple software platform) is any indication, enterprise administrators aren't in for any surprises or required hardware upgrades.
iLife '11 requires only a Mac computer with an Intel processor, but it's fair to believe Lion will require Core 2 Duo or faster chips. Memory requirements will likely be 1GB RAM, but administrators should plan on at least 2GB for smooth operation. While Disk space should prove no different than Snow Leopard, it's possible Lion will ship without an install DVD. USB software reinstall drives, as accompany new MacBook Air models, may become standard issue, but that's just a guess. Time will tell.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.