You've undoubtedly heard about Mac OS X, the latest OS family from Apple Computer. Based on a BSD UNIX variant and the Mach microkernel, Mac OS X gives Macintosh servers and desktop computers the same stable, reliable underpinnings that Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 users have enjoyed for years. And because of its UNIX heritage, Mac OS X is compatible with all the shell environments, scripting languages, command-line tools, applications, and services that UNIX environments supply. Additionally, Mac OS X features a gorgeous, state-of-the art graphical desktop that's in many ways unparalleled. Here's what you need to know about Mac OS X.

Mac OS X Server 10.2
Mac OS X Server v10.2 is an ideal server solution for small businesses and creative divisions in large enterprises looking for a stable, fast, UNIX-based environment that's compatible with Windows clients and servers. The OS features preemptive multitasking and symmetric multiprocessing (although Apple's server hardware is currently limited to two processor variants) and the latest networking and security standards, including IP version 6 (IPv6), IP Security (IPSec), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and Secure Shell 2 (SSH2). Apple's server hardware, which ships with standard desktop-style tower systems and with the rack-mounted Xserve, is ideal for hosting Lightweight Directory Access Protocol version 3 (LDAPv3)—compatible directories and Apache-based Web servers and for sharing local resources such as files and printers.

Given Apple's multimedia heritage, the company's server products are also ideal for serving multimedia on the Web. QuickTime Streaming Server 4, which now supports MPEG-4 video streaming and MP3 audio streaming, ships with Mac OS X Server.

In small workgroups, Mac OS X Server makes an excellent file server. In fact, the product's gigabit networking support makes it especially effective for creative professionals who work with large media files. Mac OS X Server
is also inexpensive to buy, although you pay a bit of a premium for Apple's hardware. A 10-client version of OS X Server costs $500, and the unlimited client version is $999. And like a certain other enterprise software supplier, Apple offers a server maintenance program, which gives you OS updates for 3 years.

Unleash the Jaguar
On the client side of the equation is Mac OS X 10.2 (aka Jaguar). This OS gives Mac desktop and laptop users Mac OS X's stable and reliable underpinnings and offers a rock-solid platform for creative professionals. Mac OS X 10.2 can interoperate with Windows workgroups and, with its bundled Samba technology, access Windows-based file shares. However, it can't access printers that Windows-based PCs have shared.

Apple gives you virtually everything you need out of the box, including email, Web browser, digital media, address book, and data synchronization applications. Microsoft also supplies a copy of Microsoft Office, dubbed Office v.X, especially for Mac OS X. For users who need Windows compatibility, a Mac-specific version of Connectix's Virtual PC is available, giving users the best of both worlds.

Recommendations
Obviously, Mac OS X isn't a viable Windows alternative for most users, but it does present an obvious and necessary upgrade for users on the desktop and for media serving and multimedia file sharing on the server. If you support Mac-based users in your enterprise, seriously consider moving them off the old, unreliable Mac OS systems and onto Mac OS X.