After conquering consumer markets with new versions of the ever-popular iPhone and iPod this year, Apple sharpened its aim at the business world Friday with the release of the newest operating system for Macs, Snow Leopard.
Snow Leopard, or version 10.6 in the Mac OS X series, is ripe with new features tailor-made for most business environments. It comes with built-in support for Microsoft Exchange, which allows Mac users to easily sync e-mail, calendar appointments and contacts with their office PCs, for example; it enables Cisco VPN, a private communication tool used by many enterprise networks; and it has hardware and applications rebuilt in 64-bit code, making the computer faster and more secure.
"Mac is clearly taking a step forward," says Jeff Boles, senior analyst with the Taneja Group. "And where the business demands it, the IT organization will be able today to much more easily incorporate Mac into their environment."
There is evidence that shows Apple has already begun to make gains in the corporate market, even before the release of Snow Leopard. In June, Apple Insider reported that while business sales for the overall computer market dropped 20 percent for the June quarter, Apple's share of business shipments only declined 1.7 percent over the same period of time. Some argue that a round of price slashes to its MacBook lineup earlier this summer amped Apple's popularity, and observers expect Snow Leopard will help continue the trend.
Since Apple announced Snow Leopard's early release on August 24, the operating system and its Family Pack, which allows installation on five different computers, has held steady at No. 1 and No. 2 on Amazon's top sellers list. Tekserve, an Apple retailer in New York City, sold 619 copies over the weekend, compared to only 400 copies of the last incarnation, Leopard (10.5), almost two years ago -- which could largely be attributed to Snow Leopard's $29 price tag.
For David Schnurman, president of Lawline.com, a website that provides video courses and lectures for lawyers, Snow Leopard's new additions are welcome changes. The company uses Macs to maintain the website and videos, and Schnurman says the new screen recording feature in Quicktime, the standard video player in Macs, will make it easier -- and cheaper -- to train interns in recording and editing video.
"We've bought different programs where you can capture different training sessions," says Schnurman. "Over three years, we've probably spent about $5,000."
Schnurman, who is also CEO of TrueNYC.com, a community for New York entrepreneurs, says he could take advantage of the Microsoft Exchange support, as well, since he has a MacBook at home but uses a PC in the workplace for his sales, tasks and appointments. While the company can't afford to completely transition to Macs yet, Schnurman says he definitely plans to make that transition, and is going to purchase Snow Leopard at the request of some of his employees.
"I'm 100 percent going to order, probably next week," he says. "If I can have some of the things I'm more used to from the PC world on the Mac, I'm pretty much sold."
Other Snow Leopard features include a built-in anti-virus feature, automatic updates for printer drivers, a new crash-resistant browser, Safari 4, as well as a host of cosmetic changes that quell some of the annoyances reported by Mac users, such as displaying the day and date on the menu bar.
It remains to be seen whether or not Snow Leopard sales will be able to stave off Windows 7, the latest operating system on deck for Microsoft, slated for release on October 22 as a successor to the often-criticized Windows Vista.