Mac OS X for business: Too little, too late

Summary:In the Wall Street Journal Online, Nick Wingfield writes the story that has routinely been written over the years -- Mac's Moment: Apple has its best chance in years to make a dent in the business market. This is pure bologna.

In the Wall Street Journal Online, Nick Wingfield writes the story that has routinely been written over the years -- Mac's Moment: Apple has its best chance in years to make a dent in the business market. This is pure bologna.   Apple's best chance to "make a dent" came about two years ago when Windows looked completely hopeless on the security front (in spite of all the lip service and muscle that Microsoft was applying at the time).

Things are very different today.  If anything, Apple is probably going to redouble its efforts on the entertainment front... Sure, Windows still can't run without anti-virus, anti-spyware, and personal firewall solutions. But, in spite of pretty scary zero-day vulnerabilities, Microsoft finally looks like it's going to be able to reign the security situation into something more manageable (note: I didn't say eliminate).  And that's not just because the company is acquiring, building-in, and or giving away many of the security technologies that were once only available from third parties.  It's also because of the many technological measures that Microsoft and Intel are putting into place (sometimes at the expense of friction-free computing) in both the software and the hardware.

Two to four years ago, there wasn't a light at the end of the Microsoft's security tunnel.  That was the Mac's biggest window of opportunity to march into businesses and take over.  But Apple was either (a) too chicken to make another real run at business or (b) reinventing the digital entertainment business or (c) both of the above.  My vote goes to (c).  Back in September 2002, around the time I first started testing the Jaguar edition of OS X, I began a quest to prove or disprove OS X's worthiness for business.  But one thing was missing: Apple.  Sure, the company sent me a system to test.  But the effort ended there.  Having deflected numerous attempts to get an Apple executive on record to discuss the company's plans to make inroads on the enterprise,  Apple clearly wasn't interested in having that discussion.  The opportunity was so very ripe for the taking.  Not only was OS X both more secure and less of a target than Windows, several influential members of the press were heaping praise upon the Mac.  One could only imagine what might have happened if Apple put the same sort of muscle it threw behind iPods and the iTunes Music Store behind the marketing of Macs to businesses.

There's another reason the window has pretty much shut: AJAX.  As the ranks of AJAX developers that are thirsty to dethrone Microsoft Office (or get acquired by Google or Yahoo) grows, so too does interest in browser-based productivity on the end-user side.  ZDNet's audience members have routinely turned me into their whipping boy for saying thin is in.  But the day Microsoft started swinging its ship around with the word "Live" painted on the hull said almost as much as the day that Intel buckled to AMD and announced its own 32/64-bit hybrid chip.  Sure, there's still plenty of life left in fat clients.  But increasingly over time, they'll be little more than hosts, integration points, and interface providers for thin applications and XML-based Web services.  This isn't exactly a good time for a new operating system -- be it OS X, Linux or even Microsoft's own Vista -- to displace the installed base (even XP has struggled to displace older versions of Windows).

No doubt, Apple is a bigger company than it was four years ago. And I hold OS X in very high regard.  While I was testing it, I loved it.  But I haven't seen any signs that it's about to get any more serious about business than it already is.  Most critics also forget that when it comes to Apple's success in business, Microsoft holds the Queen of Spades (Microsoft Office for OS X).  Except for a few pockets of self-supporting rebels that have gone of the ranch with solutions like OpenOffice/NeoOffice for OS X, OS X is pretty much useless to businesses without Microsoft Office.  The Office for Mac business has been a lucrative one for Microsoft.  But with several disruptive forces (open source, thin clients, etc.) beginning to look as though they're about to take the "cash" out of "cash cow" when it comes to Microsoft's Office franchise, I can't help but wonder if Microsoft wouldn't hesitate to pull the plug on Office for Mac if it felt Apple was really making a dent as the WSJ says it can.

If anything, Apple is probably going to redouble its efforts on the entertainment front now that many more players (literally and figuratively) are in the game.  Right now, as long as it's DRM technology (aka: C.R.A.P.) has the lock on the marketplace that it does, Apple's number 1 priority is to push as much C.R.A.P.-bound content (audio, video) into the market as it can (earlier this year, Apple registered its 1 billionth sale on the iTunes Music Store).  By doing so, the company is pretty much guaranteeing its future because of the way that content can't be played back on without Apple's technology.  This is true even if the trustbusters wake up and realize that they must force Apple to license its C.R.A.P. on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms to other vendors (if Microsoft's  antitrust history is any indicator of the future, worse can happen to Apple, but won't).  

Will Apple sell more Macs?  Definitely.  I'd like nothing more than one of those slick systems sitting on my desktop.  But a dent in business sales?  Not.

Topics: Apple


David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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