The new Apple core

Think of Apple, and you probably think of one of two things: the iMac, or the iPod. The iMac is still the single bestselling computer model in history, with more than four million of the stylish all-in-ones on desks in schools, homes and businesses around the world. Then there’s the iPod, which has taken music fans by storm and become so identified with the whole portable music player market that it’s almost become generic.

The new Apple core

Of course, both of these products are aimed at consumers, and it’s a long time since Apple had anything more than a tiny presence on corporate desktops. But quietly, almost stealthily, the company has been releasing and improving a range of products that may see it establish itself once more in corporate computing – not on the desktop, as you might expect, but in theserverroom.

And this change in Apple has already begun to attract attention from larger businesses. AT&T recently began a long-term study of OS X, in order to find out if it’s a realistic option for use both as a server operating system and (perhaps, more surprisingly) on the desktop.

Part of the reason for this interest is security, following the high-profile problems on the Microsoft platform. With new exploits for Windows appearing with startling regularity, the potential of OS X, which has relatively few known security holes and almost no viruses,isclear.

What’s more, IT specialists have begun to preach a gospel which would once have been considered heresy: diversity in platforms. While there are good cost reasons for limiting the platforms and applications that you support in your business, diversity – particularly in the server room – is good for security, as it means that even if one platform has a security hole not every system will necessarily becompromised.

What does Apple have to offer?

Until 2001, Apple’s software – once the leading graphical operating system on the market – lagged behind. While Microsoft moved on from the primitive foundations of Windows 3.1 to the more robust, multitasking Windows NT, Apple’s attempts to do the same for Mac OS foundered on a mixture of technological challenges and political in-fighting. It took Steve Jobs’ return to the company and ascendancy to the chief executive officer’s role to sort outthis mess.

The result of Jobs’ efforts to bring focus to the company was Mac OS X, a completely new version of the Mac operating system based on FreeBSD Unix, open standards, and a revamped graphical user interface. OS X brought the company’s operating system to the level of Windows NT in terms of robustness and reliability. And, because it’s based on a well-known version of Unix, it attracted much attention from technical users wanting something with the development potential of Linux (the core parts of OS X have been released as open-source code), plus the backing of a major company.

The current version, Mac OS X 10.3, often known by its original code name of Panther, is a significant improvement on the original both in terms of its speed, power and adherence to the kind of standards that are essential in the modern computing world. To briefly get technical, at its core is FreeBSD 5, running on top of a Mach 3 microkernel, with support for Posix, Linux and System V APIs, all of which means that recompiling Unix applications to run on OS X is relatively quick and easy. To aid this process, OS X includes an X11 window system, although this effectively runs on top of its native Aqua user interface rather than fully integrating into it. And there’s a proper command line terminal if you need it.

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