After 30 years, why did the Mac never break into big business?

After 30 years, why did the Mac never break into big business?

Summary: Apple's solidly built PCs have developed a cult following over the years, but they never made a dent in the enterprise. Why did the Mac fail to crack the enterprise code? I've found six reasons.


Mac versus PC.

If you want to stir up an epic online fight, that’s been the recipe for 30 years. The ongoing battle has also made for some memorable TV ads over the past decade. But in reality, despite the often harsh rhetoric, it’s never really been a contest.

After 30 years, Apple’s share of the PC market is still in single digits, percentage-wise. In its history, the Mac product line has sold more than 5 million units in a quarter only once. Last quarter, Apple shipped 4.8 million total units of its Mac product line. The PC industry – you know, the one that’s in decline – ships that many Windows machines in less than a week.

So why have Mac sales never expanded beyond those minuscule numbers? Blame the enterprise, which has been the engine for PC sales for many years. Yes, Macs have found a solid niche in graphics and video production departments (although even that stronghold is weak these days with feature parity of production apps on Windows-based devices).

When I look at the modern enterprise, I see six reasons why Windows desktops still dominate and Macs are still outsiders.

1. Enterprises run on Windows.

The average enterprise has thousands of custom, line-of-business Windows apps deployed. Some of those apps are more than 10 years old, and the cost of replacing them with cross-platform solutions such as web-based apps is prohibitive. That huge installed base of apps is one reason why the migration from Windows XP has been so slow in large organizations. And it’s why non-Windows machines are a nonstarter regardless of the operating system they run.

2. Macs are expensive. Enterprise IT budgets are tight.

The average selling price of a Mac in the most recently concluded quarter (Q1 of Apple’s 2014 fiscal year) was $1,322. That’s far more than the ASP of a Windows PC, which has hovered around $500 for years. Even if you assume that enterprises buy more expensive machines, there are still hidden costs of owning Macs, including (ironically) the cost of virtualization software and separate Windows licenses so that those Macs can run important Windows apps.

3. Microsoft Office is a second-class citizen on Macs.

Office on the Mac is always a year behind the corresponding Windows version, and Outlook is still a relative newcomer (and a poor relation). Some Office programs, most notably Access, have never been ported to the Mac. File format compatibility is strong, and for most users Office on the Mac is good enough. But it’s still a checklist item for most enterprises.

4. The desktop PC isn’t dead.

Businesses still buy lots and lots of boring desktop PCs, for workers who sit at a desk most of the day. In enterprise settings, desktops have multiple advantages. You can easily hook up multiple monitors, they’re easy to repair and upgrade, and they have ample expansion capabilities. In recent years, Apple has focused most of its efforts on the MacBook line. The iMac line is fine for art galleries and other small businesses that can run everything on a single PC, but it’s not an option for high-volume corporate computing. And we won’t even talk about the new $10,000+ Mac Pro.

5. Those Macs aren’t going to manage themselves.

The single biggest strength of the Windows ecosystem is the enormously powerful range of management software available for enterprises that run Windows domains. A tightly run IT shop can secure data, keep roaming profiles organized, and replace the image on a broken PC with the push of a remote switch. For the most part, Macs are managed as if they were mobile devices. That gives IT staff limited support tools, but it’s nothing like the management options of a fully managed, domain-joined PC.

6. Apple doesn’t provide long-term support.

Microsoft provides a guaranteed 10-year support lifecycle for Windows devices. That means an enterprise can count on a device being supported with bug fixes and security patches for a decade. Apple, by contrast, abandons older versions of OS X quickly. Yes, upgrades to recent versions of OS X are free, but IT staffs who have to deal with the costs of deploying those upgrades and dealing with attending incompatibilities might beg to differ.

These days, of course, Apple’s efforts are focused on mobile devices. The iPad line outsold all Macs by a margin of better than five to one last quarter and is beginning to approach PC shipment levels. And Apple is quick to note that most enterprises are now allowing iPads inside the corporate network.

That shift from conventional PCs/Macs to mobile devices is probably the largest reason of all why Macs have largely stalled in the enterprise. Apple long ago dropped the word “Computer” from its name, after all.

See also:

Topics: Apple, Enterprise Software, PCs

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  • Mac never broke into anything

    An excellent analysis.

    I also think Mac was a designer label representing expensive and in some cases overpriced products with too many restrictions and limitations.

    No wonder Mac barely scraped past 5% market share against Windows.
    • Apple doesn't appear want enterprise business

      It's effectively dropped its server OS (it's now an add-on packet to the consumer OS). It ignores security for the most part, with patches issued far too infrequently. And its new OS versions often have core problems that don't get addressed (Mavericks and its ongoing email issues, for example).
      • What issues?

        What issues do you speak of. I run Mavericks each and every day -- no problems. No security issues. No mail issues.
        • Just look the article

        • OMG.

          Just because Apple doesn't patch security holes and warn their users. Doesn't mean they aren't there. Mac OS has loads of them.

      • You're far off

        Throughout their existence, Apple has tried to break into the enterprise market, with their most notable failure therein being the Apple Lisa.

        Their server products failed because they were extremely expensive and couldn't run shit. Even as web servers they were slow and incapable. And who wants to pay the extra $$$ for a pretty face in a datacenter.

        Apple really failed in the enterprise, they tried a lot but they just never understood what the business market really needs - that's not pretty designs, but productive and cost-efficient machines.
        • You missed the biggest reason

          Microsoft's Predatory contracts, with businesses. No Macs, and later Linux machine allowed. Microsoft would not hesitate to send in the "Jack-booted thugs", of the BSA to shut any sop down that didn't "Adhere to the One way "business contract", and as for developers, there were clauses to prevent software being ported to "Non-Microsoft platforms".
          I hate trolls also
          • You are quite

            the comedian. Got a great laugh from that one.

            I've worked in IT more years than either Microsoft nor Apple has existed and while there is no doubt that EVERY company has brokered, as you called it "Predatory contracts" with various other companies. Not once in all the years of working in large and small organizations have I seen such opposition to mixing in other software/hardware/operating systems as you imply.

            Sounds like you're just another FUD on the other side of LD!
        • The Lisa

          is a 20+ year old example. They never really tried and that is the truth of it. The iPod shifted the whole company towards the consumer market. The consumer electronics market is vastly bigger than the Enterprise market.
    • It's the Bureaucracy Stupid

      Macs have always had features IT organizations did not /do not want. Macs are easier to learn, easier to maintain and easier to use. Windows machines have always better supported the business case for spending more money on IT personnel. And, in most established enterprises it is IT that 'guides' computer purchasing decisions.

      Apples efforts to make their machines simpler / easier / less dependent on attending technical expertise effectively doomed their enterprise prospects for cultural / political reasons from the get-go.
      • What a huge...

        ...steaming pile of horseshit.

        Techie people actually tend to focus on efficiency in their work. Of all the engineers I've ever worked with (many, many!), I don't remember ANY who thought in terms of how much bureaucracy they could add - doesn't that go in total opposition to the very concept of "engineering"?

        And regardless of how "simple" computers get, there will ALWAYS be a need for an IT dept. Even if Apple extend their policy of limiting users' ability to determine their own way of working to the point where there is ONLY ONE WAY of doing anything (dictated by Apple, of course), the IT dept will still be the same size. IT is about so much more than what happens on the desktop.
        • Well, yes...

          Small company I work for has 900 employees. The landscape is an even split between PCs and Macs. Our IT has just over 20 employees dedicated to servicing and administrating the machines--in addition to other IT employees with other job descriptions. There are three (3) technicians assigned exclusively to the Macs; rest are assigned to the PCs. As one IT techie said to me, "You're damned right we don't want more Macs. It's a job-security issue, among other things."
          I found that comment, in tandem with the job assignments, rather enlightening.
          Laurence Ballard
          • Same Story at Intel

            I remember a story, from about a decade ago, regarding the number of people Intel required for desktop support, and the ratio was similar — their Mac users required far less support per head than Windows. More recently:

            "[Mac] Support call volume was so low that our Technical Assistance Center couldn't maintain their skills. So we stopped using the TAC in 2010," said Ferguson. "We now have one contract worker who handles Mac support calls."
          • PC to Mac IT ratio at LEAST 7 to 1!

            At one point in my 15 years as a Mac technician, I was hired in 1999 by the most prominent cancer research hospital in the northeast to service a rather substantial number of Macs on a daily basis as well as to address any potential Y2K issues (everybody remember all THAT nonsense amounting to nothing?)

            What I have always remembered most vividly is the fact that I was the SOLE tech for their entire installed base of 800 Macs, whereas the department had seven other techs supporting less than a THIRD that number of PCs, albeit including server and network maintenance.

            So, aside from any other question about the vested interests of IT personnel justifying or preserving their jobs, the irrefutable fact remains obvious after all these years that the PC world's dirtiest little secret is that any supposed cost savings up front have always been offset by the MUCH greater effort and expense required AFTER their purchase.
          • Whatever

            My enterprise has ~4000 PCs scattered around the world and we have about 15 techs around the world to service them. Yet we have a couple of techs that spend about 25% of their time dinking around with our 70+ Macs.

            Macs drives go out, break, get corrupted, etc just like Windows PCs.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • I disagree since I've seen that Macs have the same issues as PC

            I hear all these "PC Horror Stories" - 25 people needed to keep the 100 PC's going, 1 Apple tech to keep 1000 Macs going, and I wonder what pocket universe do these people exist in?

            They get the drives from the same place as PC OEM, they get the CPU from the same vendor, cables, too. Foxconn running Apple and PC lines side by side, and the end product is used by the same users.

            The thing is, I deal with places that use one or the other exclusively, as well as many places that use them both, and in the end, the techs at these locations say the exact same thing -

            "There's really no difference, we're always fixing issues with both"
        • I recall a MCSE at a national grocery store chain...

          say they had a company present a more efficient way of managing their network. The presentation showed a large money savings for corporate, heightened IT productivity. The deal breaker was it also lowered the number of IT folks (they would not be needed), thus their IT department would have none so they fought it. Yes, IT won, jobs were kept, corporate lost millions on inefficiency. Oh-well.

          Again, I was not there, but I personally know the MCSE, so to me the store is credible.
      • Errrm...

        That doesn't make sense. Mac are turn-key machines why would any OPs manager not want that? Unless the OPs manager wants to justify his existence in some way. A mac mini for $599 Retail price isn't bad but I wonder whether the corporate pricing was wrong and the fact that Windows is endemic.
        • For consumers, maybe

          Macs are turn-key machines until you want to do something more advanced than making a slide show of your vacation snapshots.

          Seriously, try to network those things in an enterprise environment with roaming profiles and mainframe connections. And try to manage them from one central point. You can't.
          • Nonsense on all counts