Apple acknowledges user frustrations over roadmap

Apple yesterday conceded corporate IT workers are "always" complaining about its secretive product roadmap -- but warned the only way to get up to speed is to invest thousands of dollars and a full working week attending its annual US-based developer conference.

Apple yesterday conceded corporate IT workers are "always" complaining about its secretive product roadmap -- but warned the only way to get up to speed is to invest thousands of dollars and a full working week attending its annual US-based developer conference.

"People always complain that Apple doesn't give systems admins or systems architects enough of a roadmap of where our technologies are going," the vendor's Asia-Pacific head of developer relations, Craig Bradley, told an audience of third-party developers in Sydney yesterday.

Bradley was referring to Apple's notorious culture of corporate secrecy that sees very little information released about the vendor's products before they actually hit the market.

The official Apple line was backed up by David Colville, technology director for Key Options Technology, an Australian systems integrator specialising in Apple's Mac OS X operating system.

At the Apple-hosted event, Colville said it could be a "real challenge" integrating Apple's products in the enterprise space.

"Our target markets are corporate, they want to be able to plan two years ahead, sometimes three years ahead," he said, pointing out such customers wanted him to look into his crystal ball and predict vendor roadmaps over that time. Colville said with Apple that crystal ball could be "very cloudy".

But Bradley and Colville both gave the audience only one way out of the Apple dilemma: go to Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), held annually and approaching in August.

Those attending the conference get a clear roadmap of Apple's software development plans up to 18 months ahead, Colville said. "The crystal ball gets a little less cloudy," he said.

"This is the event to be at," agreed Bradley.

"This is where we do speak about these technologies. We'll be setting the foundations for our next operating system, which is going to take us through the next couple of years."

Apple's internal engineers also attend, solving problems and demonstrating technology. And that's not all -- Apple's Cupertino campus also plays host to what Bradley described as "pretty much a beer-bash".

These privileges don't come cheap though, with attendees paying up to US$1595 for the five day event and being required to comply with non-disclosure provisions about confidential information available there.

Bradley said Apple would "definitely" be demonstrating its new Leopard operating system at this year's conference, although he declined to reveal any details ahead of time.

Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs would have that privilege, he said.

Problem with perception?
Colville went on to detail some of the challenges of providing Macintosh-based solutions to businesses.

He noted the Apple choice came with a perceived "extra cost and risk" compared with the Windows alternative, in addition to perceived compatibility issues.

In addition, he said, Apple's previous operating system, Mac OS 9, had a reputation for instability that was still around, despite the newer Mac OS X's strong stability record.

Key Options is currently involved in a rollout of Apple Xserve servers in the New South Wales Department of Education.

But Colville admitted his business, which has five full-time staff and some contractors, did other work on the side, doing about 30 percent of its work in the areas of Linux, Windows and networking services.

He said his business growth and profit would be stunted if he only did Mac-focused work.

Despite the complications of being a Mac OS X integrator, Colville is clearly still enthusiastic about Apple as a vendor. During the presentation he demonstrated some of the innovative uses of Mac OS X to the audience, such as the operating systems' new ability to run side by side with Microsoft's Windows on Apple's new Intel-enabled laptops.

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