Apple hopes its new Tiger operating system will help the company crack open the enterprise server market, where its Xserve line lags behind Windows, Linux and other Unix offerings.

But analysts believe it's unclear if Mac OS X Server 10.4, which has built-in support for more than 100 open-source software technologies, will propel Apple beyond its traditional user base. That consists of academic and scientific institutions attracted by the powerful processing capabilities of Apple's systems, as well as publishing companies and others lured by its graphics and multimedia technology.

"They have a challenging environment," said IDC analyst Al Gillen. Apple's technology gives it an advantage in certain markets, Gillen said. But, he added, "overall, the Unix market isn't growing. The only way to grow is to take market share from one of your competitors."

No Plans to Change

Fourteen of 16 IT managers who responded to a random Computerworld email poll this week said they have no plans to consider Tiger, either because they aren't familiar with it, they see no need to change their existing technology environments or they're trying to consolidate the various servers they now support.

Xserve sales are strongest in their price range of the Unix/RISC server market, according to Jean Bozman, another analyst at IDC. In that category, Apple servers accounted for 20 per cent of worldwide factory revenue and 21 per cent of unit shipments last year, Bozman said. But looking at Unix/RISC servers priced at $25,000 or below, Apple had less than 5 per cent of revenue and less than 10 per cent of unit shipments, she said.

Florida Community College at Jacksonville uses two dozen Apple servers for video staging, archiving and developing multimedia applications, said CIO Rob Rennie. The servers have been "rock solid" and reliable, and the college will upgrade to Tiger as soon as it can, he said.

Apple servers gain entry to many companies by way of the desktop. For instance, the art department at Weather Central's newspaper group uses Macs, so adding Apple servers was a natural step, said Chuck Sholdt, vice president of weather services.

Sholdt said his group installed its first Apple server software about 12 years ago and now uses two Xserve systems. "OS X has matured, and we just keep smiling every time a new upgrade comes out," he said.

But Mac usage does not always translate to adoption of Apple servers. About 30 per cent of the end users at JWT, an advertising agency in New York, run Macs, said Steve Bumba, JWT's worldwide systems director. But Windows is the official server platform, and Apple servers turn up only in isolated workgroups, he said.