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Commentary: The seed of a Web services plan

While Apple Computer may attract some Unix desktop applications with its OS X operating system, Unix remains a creature of the server world.

While Apple Computer may attract some Unix desktop applications with its OS X operating system, Unix remains a creature of the server world.

To the extent that Unix developers have the time and inclination to write for the desktop, they are working on Linux. Unless Apple is going to offer Unix-based OS X in an open-source strategy (a good way to guarantee that it makes no money), we do not expect it to attract Unix developers to write desktop applications.

By moving to a Unix kernel, however, Apple has created a much more powerful operating system that can match the power of Windows 2000, which is built on Microsoft's server operating system, Windows NT. We believe a key reason that Apple went to Unix was to get a more robust kernel for its operating system to provide better performance and reliability. Apple has succeeded in creating an updated Macintosh experience on a Unix platform while hiding the complexities of Unix.

Apple's developers' Web site contains a hint of another possible reason for Apple's move to Unix, in the form of a quote from a Sun Microsystems vice president about the power of combining the strengths of Sun and Apple. While we regard any notion of Sun buying Apple as wildly speculative, this may be a first step by Apple toward a Web-based services strategy, following the example of Sun's J2EE and Microsoft's .Net.

In fact, we believe Apple must develop a Web services strategy if it is to survive, particularly in the business and educational markets and eventually in the consumer market as well. To do this, Apple needs an architecture that spans servers as well as desktops. OS X can give it the ability to do that with Unix servers.

See news story:
Will OS X's Unix roots help Apple grow?
At best, however, this is only the first glimmer of such a strategy. Apple still lacks the necessary infrastructure--including application servers, enterprise portal capabilities and support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) registries and other Web standards--and so far it has given no hint of a relationship with BEA Systems, IBM or any other vendor that can provide those missing elements.

If this announcement does reflect the start of a Web services strategy, and if Apple can forge needed relationships in time to move into this next-generation arena, it would not need to limit itself to J2EE. In fact, Apple could move into an interesting position as a neutral desktop, providing access to both J2EE and .Net services.

This basing of Mac on Unix gives the vast majority of enterprises, which do not use the Macintosh platform, no reason to consider migrating to Apple. It gives organizations that do still use Macintoshes a glimmer of hope that this will prove the first shift by Apple to a Web services focus.

Meta Group analysts Dale Kutnick, David Cearley, Jack Gold, Val Sribar, William Zachmann and Steve Kleynhans contributed to this article.

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