Thursday, June 12, 2008

Macs and iPhones: Reporting for Duty by David Morgenstern

Macs and iPhones: Reporting for duty If the iPhone and Mac are good enough for the US Army, can IT managers keep saying that these Apple platforms aren’t good enough anymore?

Returning to the video of Monday’s WWDC keynote, I found that a couple of demonstrations and canned user comments made a strong impression. They offer evidence of a possible change in perception about the benefits of Apple platforms in the enterprise.

First were the recorded comments offered by Lieutenant Colonel C.J. Wallington, Director of Advanced Technologies, U.S. Army., who participated in the beta program for iPhone 2.0 software. Sure, there were other executives in the video, but they were long-standing Apple customers such as Disney and Genentech, so some folks might discount the testimony. But the Army?

Wallington said that his technology decisions touched more than 2 million users and that “soldiers’ lives” depended on the performance of technology and its security. His users are “exceedingly mobile, deploy all over the world, and have people shooting at [them].”

He gave a thumbs up to the iPhone. He praised its usability and security.

Actually, Wallington is also on the record being upbeat about Mac clients and servers. In a Forbes article at the turn of the year, he talked up Macs in the data center. Last year there were some 20,000 Macs in the Army, a small percentage of the mix.

At the time, his recommendations centered on server security.

Though Apple machines are still pricier than their Windows counterparts, the added security they offer might be worth the cost, says Wallington. He points out that Apple’s X Serve servers, which are gradually becoming more commonplace in Army data centers, are proving their mettle. “Those are some of the most attacked computers there are. But the attacks used against them are designed for Windows-based machines, so they shrug them off,” he says.

Of course, this security assertion continues to be disputed by many IT managers and pundits. Even if it’s fact.

While it appears that the Mac and iPhone are slowly becoming targets of malware, there are still very, very, very few attacks when compared with the daily onslaught against Windows computers. But that’s not good enough for the nay-sayers, who don’t see the security difference as enough of a value to change.

However, iPhone security was just one part of the new platform’s value proposition. An important element were the productivity from the developer tools. The SDK will make creation and support for in-house applications easy.

You could hear this in the comments from many of the developers who demonstrated forthcoming apps on stage. Sure, they appreciated the iPhone hardware and its capabilities such as multi-touch or graphics performance. But in the next breath, they were praising the tools, which had made a huge difference, or made possible any consideration of the platform.

An example of this was the demonstration by MIMvista of remote evaluation of medical images with an iPhone. According to Mark Cain, the company’s CTO, the iPhone has “created a new direction” for the company.

“We’ve taken a desktop application, removed it from the realm of black art, and placed it in the hands of physicians and patients,” he said at the keynote.

But really it’s not the iPhone alone that’s done it. It’s the iPhone and the Xcode tools that are making the difference for the MIMvista app. Same thing with the Army.

Could the Army settle on the iPhone as its preferred mobile platform? Now, that would be something

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