Apple needs open source in the enterprise

The company seems to be flying high but could soar even higher in the enterprise with a little help from open source.

Given how rich Apple's recent earnings were--buoyant in the face of the recession--it's perhaps an inopportune time to suggest that Apple needs to figure out its enterprise application strategy.

And given how dependent Apple's earnings are on a tightly integrated mass of proprietary hardware and software, it's perhaps cheeky in the extreme to suggest that open-source software can help, though perhaps not entirely unexpected considering the Mac's popularity with open-source advocates.

Yet this is precisely what Ned Lilly suggests in MacNewsWorld, and I agree. The deeper Apple gets pulled into the enterprise by people eager to use their home-based technology at work, the more it is going to need to figure out an application compatibility story for the enterprise.

Open-source software applications have tended to be multi-platform, for a variety of reasons, which makes open source a potentially useful tool for Apple, as Lilly points out:

One consequence of the intersection of open source and Mac worlds...has been that newer open source offerings are not just Mac-friendly but are equally PC-friendly. They expect to live in a world where multiple platforms and systems interact and interconnect seamlessly. This result of the community approach is yet another advantage of open source, as proprietary offerings often favor either Macs or PCs.

What's exciting is the potential of this approach to drill down into even more specialized demands of businesses. Currently, the "missing piece" of many Mac-friendly enterprise applications is vertical-specific functionalities; the open source community approach is equipped to fill this gap.

Lilly is right, but he's speaking of potential, not actual software being delivered today. To make it happen, Apple needs to help foster a rich ecosystem of open-source applications, but not by writing the vertical applications itself.

Rather, Apple simply needs to exert some leadership with a hint of missionary zeal.

This wouldn't require a big investment of Apple resources, but it could go a long way toward making the Apple easier for CIOs to swallow. Open-source applications are on a tear, as recent Forrester data shows. Apple should be tapping into this trend.

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