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IT takes wait-and-hope approach to Apple Mac Mountain Lion

Apple iCloud integration, iOS-like apps and features, pose benefits and risks

By , Network World
February 16, 2012 05:56 PM ET

Network World - Apple today released the developer preview for Mountain Lion, which will be generally released late summer 2012. Among the key changes: versions of applications and services originally created for the iOS mobile platforms; built-in integration with the iCloud service; and a new application security feature called Gatekeeper.

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Apple's focus continues to be individual consumers, not enterprise IT groups, according to analysts and IT users. In some cases, these "consumerized" features can naturally boost the usability, productivity and security for corporate Mac users. But what's currently missing, or at least not yet apparent, is whether Apple will provide tools that make it possible to administer and secure Mac users in groups. (Watch a sneak peek of Mountain Lion.)

Mountain also continues the, for some, controversial trend toward introducing for Macs a range of behaviors and capabilities first developed for Apple's mobile iPhones and iPads. The goal is still a subject of debate.

"The biggest thing I see...[is] Apple is working on feature parity from iOS and OS X," says Randy Saeks, network manager at Northbrook/Glenview School District 30, in Northbrook, Illi., a big Mac and iOS shop. "Features from iOS (iMessage, Notification Center for example) are now added to the desktop OS. This, to me, shows Apple working to merge the two platforms sometime down the road. From the IT perspective this may mean we don't have to worry about the intricacies of each platform (iOS vs OS X) and can focus on one."

But Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg doesn't think Apple's goal is to unify the two platforms into one. Rather, he says, it is "one step forward to unify the Apple ecosystem," which increasingly is oriented around a "personal cloud." He defines "ecosystem" as the overall look and feel and behavior of Apple products from the standpoint of the individual enduser, so that "services and content flow across devices, but are contextually appropriate for each device," whether a big-screen desktop Mac, a MacBook laptop, an iPhone or an Apple TV.

Mountain Lion's integration with iCloud is essential to this vision. Apple says there are now over 100 million iCloud users. For these people, Gartenberg argues, the cloud is becoming more important than the OS platform or even the device. Even the log-in for Mountain Lion seems to reflect this, he says. "You log on and the first thing it asks for is your iCloud information [i.e, your Apple ID], Gartenberg says. Once it has that, it will automatically set up the contacts, mail, calendar, FaceTime, Find My Mac, along with others services. The iCloud Documents service pushes any changes in a document to all your iCloud-connected devices.

But it's precisely that ease of use that could raise enterprise concerns, says Ryan Faas in an early assessment at Cult of Mac. "The problem I can see based on Apple's descriptions and short feature videos is that it all happens simultaneously with little or no control by the user or by the user's IT department," he says. "That means Mountain Lion may just sync everything, personal and professional. With documents and notes, that's particularly problematic from a business security standpoint."

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