Monday, April 21, 2008

Apple- it's time to stop playing with yourself

Before I start down the path of bashing the fine folks who work on Infinity Loop, let me say that I am a big fan of their products. I own a Mac, use an Airport Express, and stare jealously at the people who casually flick through songs or phone numbers on their iphone. Macs have made computer sexy- easy to use, but powerful enough for almost any task and in some instances superior to their PC counterparts.

However, lately I have been dealing with a number of issues with Apple and wireless. As Macbooks become more prevelant in the home, people are starting to clamor for them at work or bring their own. Just as people want one number, one cellphone, or one microwave, people are starting to want just one computer they can take with them that has everything they need. In this arises my gripe with Apple. They have long implemented their own version of doing lots of things. You want a song for your ipod? Better buy it on itunes. You want access to the itunes store? You need to load the itunes player. You want to do WPA2 WDS with an Airport Express? You better use an Airport Extreme base station. The music ones don't bother me- I mostly still buy CDs and LPs, but the Airport Express issue and wireless in general has bothered me for a long time.

Wireless relies on standards. Heck, most of networking relies on standards. That's why you can rest assured when you plug in one device to another, it is going to work as you please. This kind of interoperability is what drove wireless to where it is today, and why people know that when you take your dell laptop with its Intel chipset you are going to have a connection at your local Starbucks. Apple uses these standards, but then tweaks them just enough so that if you don't use an Apple base station you aren't going to get as strong performance. I understand that you want to protect your company and create that beautiful "Halo Effect," where a desire for one product like an iPod causes us sheep to buy a $3,000 computer to plug it into. It's wonderful and I love capitalism, so cheers.

However, if you are going to make inroads into the enterprise market-and Apple has not been shy about saying that it has the hardware to do it and thinks it can- then you better start doing some interoperability testing. They have no infrastructure play in the enterprise space, and given the fairly high barrier to entry and the inflexibility of most IT staffs, they would have a tough time proving they had enterprise-grade equipment. Apple has high margins based on the fact that it carries a lot of cachet with consumers (I don't want to hear how you can do all these great unix programs on there because the majority of Apple users aren't doing anything more than typing term papers) and its stuff isn't able to handle the beating that companies will put on it. You cannot connect that many people to an airport base station and expect it to work, so there will be a very significant investment there. The hardware that Apple really cares about and believes can be in the workplace is the laptop. Laptops are replacing desktops at a very fast rate, so we know from the trends (and if Apple understands anything it is trends) that Apple will be pushing the laptop as the hardware. Anyway, given that we now have Apple in the workplace and no Apple access points, it means we need interoperability and Apple is not at all fond of working with other partners or companies.

The famous iphone incident at Duke which crushed their network was rightfully blamed on the Cisco infrastructure, which unfortunately had no idea that Apple had implemented DHCP addressing using a different RFC. A quick patch was put out that fixed the issue, but it could have been avoided entirely if Apple had listed the RFCs it was using. Which products were already using those RFCs? Why, Apple's, of course. With this next generation of iphone soon hitting shelves, Apple has turned to using Cisco's VPN technology and seems to be more willing to work with Cisco to ensure it will work in the enterprise environment. Apple has also signed on to the CCX program (or at least trial it for some time).

This is what really had me upset- Apple always backed away from joining CCX, which provides vendors a way of ensuring special capabilities with Cisco wireless equipment), saying that they would rather do it their own way. They didn't see the great benefit to them. This was being said while they were also being touted as the educational device of choice, while most universities were using Cisco APs. Because Apple did things differently or authenticated into the wireless network, most IT staffs refused to support Macs. Since they are becoming a larger part of the population, they have no choice but to support them. Here's where my problem arose- From a wireless perspective, you don't have to follow every one of the 802.11 standards. You may not use 802.11e for Qos, or 802.11d for world domain control, but most chip manufacturers understand that you need to include most of these because you have to work within a number of vendors. Furthermore, macs are notoriously hard to debug without knowing a lot of hidden commands. Wireless is no exception, and a lot of the time it is a matter of hitting a button and hoping for the best.

I am glad to see Apple joining CCX. Not only does it help the people running the network and those of us who have to figure out what is happening, but it ultimately helps Apple. They are pushing into a very lucrative and large market that they will not be able to control from end-to-end and by joining the consortium they are allowing themselves to be successful.....and letting me sleep.

3 comments:

Luke said...

BAM !

Finally some honesty .. I'm surrounded by Apple zealots atm and drowning

Lawrence said...

Hahaha, same response as Luke..

Darren said...

Are there any updates on this? As of 10.4.9, there is still no CCX support, but rumor has it that CCX support was added in 10.5.5. Is this true? Is this documented anywhere?