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Tech Watch: VARs aren't pouncing on Mac Snow Leopard

Apple Mac Snow Leopard OS supports Exchange Server, but issues around older Mac OS releases could hinder wide business adoption, VARs say.

Despite some compatibility hiccups, the first two weeks of retail sales for Apple Snow Leopard in early September apparently far exceeded those of its predecessor Macintosh operating systems, Leopard and Tiger. But most VARs aren't pouncing just yet, citing slow native support from some key third-party applications.

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According to NPD Group, Snow Leopard operating system (OS) sales were more than two times those of Leopard during its first two weeks of release and almost four times those of Tiger. What's more, sales declined only 25% from week one to week two, compared to a 60% drop for Leopard and Tiger during their launch phase. One huge factor was the $29 upgrade price and a $100 price reduction in the single-user and five-user license packs when compared with Leopard, NPD analysts say.

Dana Stibolt, owner and cofounder of MacMedics, an Apple authorized VAR in Baltimore, said the 64-bit Snow Leopard is a significant under-the-covers overhaul that makes the OS far more efficient and "slimmer" than previous OS alternatives.

The fact that it runs only on Intel chips, and not legacy Power PC systems, will absolutely spur hardware upgrades among those that have been waiting, he said, although MacMedics has not been asked to handle any mass migrations yet.

"The larger the organization, the slower you are to go to a new OS," Stibolt said.

One frustration faced by MacMedics is the lack of availability for previous editions of the Macintosh OS, which makes it difficult to keep all configurations across a company standard if someone absolutely needs a new machine.

"It appears that Apple will force our hand, as it looks like Leopard is no longer available for sale from Apple," Stibolt said. "None of our distributors have it in stock any more. We still have a large number of clients that did not want to rush into Leopard or could not afford to make the jump when it came out, either, for IT policy or for financial reasons."

Kerry Corlett, president and cofounder of Annex Pro, an Apple authorized VAR in Vancouver, British Columbia, that predominantly serves the media and entertainment industries, has also encountered this issue. Although there is no official downgrade policy that allows individuals to install earlier versions of the Mac OS on machines preloaded with Snow Leopard, Apple has helped Annex Pro address this for clients that absolutely are not ready to make the change.

Because of the specialized nature of the applications that Annex Pro customers use, Corlett's team is advising them to wait until they are between projects before trying to upgrade. That's because some key applications from Autodesk and Digidesign are still being put through the Snow Leopard customization and testing cycle. It will be at least 60 to 90 days before Annex Pro feels comfortable with how this software performs, and it could be up to six months before all the kinks are worked out, Corlett said.

Can iPhone blaze trail for Mac in business?

And what about the theory that Snow Leopard will encourage businesses to convert from Windows to Mac? Stibolt said the enormous success of the Apple iPhone has some small-business executives asking more questions about Apple's systems, but MacMedics has handled only a few wholesale migrations from Windows to Macintosh.

Some traditional PC VARs also said they see little in Snow Leopard to encourage their own customers to switch, but the new OS is making it easier for them to better integrate pockets of Macintosh users into the corporate network.

"The key functionality in Snow Leopard is its native support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007," said M.J. Shoer, president and virtual chief technology officer for Jenaly Technology Group, a VAR in Portsmouth, N.H. "That means that out of the box, you will be able to connect a Snow Leopard Apple to a corporate Exchange Server, which has historically not been as straightforward as it should have been. Will this make Snow Leopard a more appealing business operating system? I don't think so. What it will do is ease the integration of traditional Apple OS environments, like marketing or graphics departments, into the overall corporate infrastructure."

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