Is Apple more controlling than Microsoft?

While still on the fringe, Apple is continually gaining ground in the corporate environment. Recent studies have shown that universities, too, are seeing a surge in OS X usage – some of which will soon translate into enterprise demand as those graduates enter the work force. While many users laud Apple for the freedom that it gives them, recent developments indicate that Apple might be even more of a “control freak” than Microsoft.

The specific controversy centers around the iPhone. While not yet a cog in the corporate computing machine, it may well become one. In any case, the iron grip that Apple is keeping on third-party developers for that platform shows a side of Apple that is rarely seen. And, Apple’s behavior can be used as a rallying point for those corporate architects that want to keep Apple out of the enterprise.

Even before its much-anticipated release, Apple proclaimed that “iPhone to support third-party Web 2.0 Apps”. The company was true to its word and the initial release of the iPhone came with an application by that little, third-party software provider known as Google. And, while Apple has been offering educational seminars on iPhone/Web 2.0, it appears to be out of sync with many developers.

Beginning about a week after the release of the phone, developers learned how to access the iPhone. Because it runs a version of the same OS X that powers Apple's core computers, it is no surprise that developers were able to get off the ground so quickly.

Given that the iPhone arrived without common applications such as instant messaging and also without any Outlook client support – and given Apple's focus on the consumer market – third-party applications are very important to potential enterprise integration.Without going into the gory details, development has fallen into two categories, applications that execute on the iPhone and custom “user data” like “ringtones.” “Unauthorized” programs are potentially harmful insofar as a poorly written application could either slow down your iPhone or even cause it to crash. Custom content such as ringtones on the other hand is completely benign. The ringtones simply occupy a portion of RAM on the iPhone the same way as the music, video and pictures that you sync down from iTunes do.

No matter, benign or not, Apple has stopped all “unauthorized activity.” At first it was a cat-and-mouse game and then Apple got serious – all without making (to my knowledge) any public statements on the matter.

Third-party vendors were deploying applications with ease – and apparently being just ignored by Apple. Bizarrely, the target of Apple's ire were the vendors that allowed users to create their own ringtones – instead of paying Apple 99 cents for each purchased song they wanted to change into a ringtone.

For a while it was very much a cat-and-mouse game between Apple and developers and was almost comical to observe. Developers would find that Apple had used a special name for ringtones and bang, custom ringtones worked. A few days later, Apple would change the name and the next day developers would figure out the new naming structure.

Then, in late September, Apple “nuked” the renegade developers by issuing an update to the iPhone firmware that required all data to be signed and encrypted. Anything not put there by Apple was wiped out.

At this writing a stunned – and unhappy – developer community is trying to break on through – again. Anyone considering iPhone as an enterprise device would do well to follow this controversy.

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