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Apple OS X surges in enterprise with maturing security

John Cox | Jan. 27, 2014
'Consumerising' the OS strengthens enterprise security of Macs.

For seven of the past 30 years that the Mac has existed, Apple has been reinventing itself as the "post-PC" company, with its mobile operating system, iOS, and iPhones and iPads to run it. Yet Apple's changes in the Mac's OS X operating system and a crystallization of recent management and security features are spurring a Mac surge in an unlikely market: the enterprise.

Jan. 24 is the 30th anniversary of the Mac.Mac laptops, especially, have been gaining ground in the enterprise for several years, though Microsoft Windows still has the lion's share by far, in the wake of the widespread enterprise adoption of iOS-based mobile devices. (BareFigures has a chart "Mac Portables vs. Desktop unit sales" showing the higher numbers and growth rate yearly for the notebooks.)

"The big difference between Apple and the Windows/Linux world is the model of a closed [OS] architecture and software environment," says Stephen Cobb, security researcher with ESET, which offers a variety of popular endpoint anti-virus and security applications, including products for the Mac. "That's got a lot to be said for it. You can see the benefits of exercising tight control over the hardware and software in iOS: we're not seeing the problems we see in the Android world."

From a security viewpoint, the evolution of OS X over the past decade has been "tightening up the walled garden," says Cobb. At the same time, Cobb and others say, Apple has been increasing and improving its interactions with the security community, including application vendors, though some say Apple needs to be more transparent about security.

"In OS X and iOS, you do have levels of protection," Cobb says. "But you only have Apple's work on security. It's very good work, but there is a theoretical concern: If Apple misses something, what are we going to do?'"

OS X was introduced about 14 years ago, adopting a Unix Kernel and based on technology from NeXT, which Apple bought in 1997. The first version was for servers; the first desktop release was in 2001.

The newest version is OS X 10.9 or Mavericks, released Oct. 22, 2013, as a free update through the Mac App Store. Software updates are now automatic.

"Mavericks is significantly better," says Benjamin Levy, principal with Solutions Consulting, a Los Angeles firm that specializes in Apple OS X and iOS deployments for enterprise customers. "The API for [user] profiles has been expanded tremendously and the [much improved] caching server is a fantastic addition. The fact that they're giving away what used to be about $200 worth of software means that they're setting the baseline higher, getting more people on it, and making a stronger, healthier ecosystem."


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