Mac OS X for business: Too little, too late

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.

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TOPICS: Apple
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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.

Topic: Apple

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31 comments
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  • Probably right

    I'm not sure Apple even had a chance a few years ago. Businesses fear change. Businesses are also far too busy running themselves, trying to make money, to spend much time completely revamping their internal systems and retraining their staff.

    As an example, my company would greatly benefit from getting off of Quark and upgrading to Adobe InDesign. But it isn't happening any time soon, if ever. Why? Because we've got books to publish, we barely have time for that, let alone completely restructuring our process.

    So while OSX is perfectly capable for businesses, and most would save in the long run from lower maintenance and TCO in general, most businesses can't be bothered.

    The home market makes much more sense, as people have the time and energy there to experiment, much moreso than in the workplace.
    tic swayback
    • The home market, tic?

      But that's where Apple has been trying to increase its market share, without significant positive results.

      Regardless of Apple's quality, its price and exclusivity create loyalists and discourage those who think of the computer as a necessary evil. And Windows as the standard software.

      By exclusivity... Is Apple selling at WalMart? Think up market.
      Anton Philidor
      • Define "significant"

        ---But that's where Apple has been trying to increase its market share, without significant positive results.---

        Take a look at recent gains by Apple. Forbes predicts them rising to 2.3% in 2006 from 2.0% in 2004. That may look like small potatoes to Microsoft, but any company would love a 15% rise in the size of their market. And double digit growth is certainly significant.

        ---Regardless of Apple's quality, its price and exclusivity create loyalists and discourage those who think of the computer as a necessary evil. And Windows as the standard software.---

        Absolutely. But the iPod and the ease of use and loyalty it's creating will probably move some from category 2 to category 1. Not enough for MS to blink, but certainly enough to make a big difference for Apple.
        tic swayback
        • Percentages can be deceiving, too.

          The release of Vista will probably be associated with a lot of marketing by Microsoft and the OEMs. In turn, unless a number of careers are destined to be abbreviated, that should lead to a lot of sales.

          So Apple could have a satisfactory increase in sales compared to the past, while even declining as a percentage of computers sold.

          During that period Apple can be pleased at its gains without causing great concern at Microsoft.

          That's an example of how small variations in market share percentages don't indicate too much.
          Anton Philidor
          • rising share of growing market, 15% is a LOT

            Apple's 15% increase in market share is [b]not[/b] in a declining
            market, but an expanding market. That small increase in market
            share ... 15% is small? ... is in a growing market and represents a
            [b]lot[/b] of new computers being sold.

            The release of Vista may lead to much marketing, but don't count
            on a lot of new sales. Or that it will cut into Mac sales - as Macs
            with the latest OS will be able to dual-boot to Windows.
            dlmeyer@...
  • the real reason...

    the real reason that Apple didn't win is that they didn't make it easy enough. IT is understaffed and lazy. If Apple doesn't make it really easy for folks to transition it won't happen.
    ffelman@...
    • Good points

      I remember when I first started working with Jaguar. From a usability point alone, I complained that there was no easy way to make the transition. For example, when Wordperfect woo'd customers away from Wordstar, they offered Wordstar keystroke compatibility (if I recall). Then Word had some Wordperfect compatibility. Quattro offered 123 keystroke compatibility to win spreadsheet switchers. When I cracked open Apple, there was nothing -- not in the OS or the documentation -- that said "If you're switching from Windows, here's what you need to know."
      dberlind
      • Help is still available.

        If you have Office 2003 (on Windows) take a look at Help. You'll find assistance for WordPerfect users.

        I think the absence of detailed help for the transition, including in the software, is a limitation resulting from Apple's smaller size.
        Anton Philidor
      • Apple does provide help for users who switch to a Mac

        Apple does provide help for users who switch to a Mac from a Windows computer. I admit it may not be obvious to the new user. For the new computer user/former Windows user Apple has created a very useful section at apple.com to assist users during the transition. Follow the link and you will find all the help needed for users to transition to a Mac:

        http://www.apple.com/switch/

        I haven't upgraded my Mac in a long time so I don't know if this is correct or not: When a new Mac is turned on for the first time is the user asked if they are switching from a Windows computer and if so takes the user through a series of steps to connect the Machine to the Mac and help the user to move their documents and internet settings (including bookmarks and emails) over to the Mac, everthing which should be moved over to the Mac from the Windows machine. After this has been completed and the Mac connected to the internet does not the Mac ask the user if they would like some assistance/tutorials to familarize former Windows users with the Mac's use by directing them to the information located on Apple's website? I believe this happens but I am bit out of touch with how Apple haddles this. When Apple had the Major switch ad campaign a few years ago I remeber such a senario being presented for Windows switchers.
        paul351
    • I've got two words for you

      Boot Camp

      http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/
      D T Schmitz
    • How can this be?

      How can IT be both understaffed and lazy?

      I contend that IT organizations are understaffed. And because of that understaffing, they can seem lazy because they don't have the resources to do what's best in every scenario.

      But seeming to be lazy and actually being lazy are two different things.
      bidemytime
  • Most business IT departments

    are run by people who have no idea about other systems besides Windows. They would be putting themselves out of work if the ever adopted another system.

    And, because most people are forced to use Windows at work, they are afraid to by anything but Windows at home because they are afraid of incompatibilities.

    It is a vicious circle that can only be broken by some external force. The iPod can help incent some people to switch, but it will take something stronger, and longer lasting to break us out of the Windows rut.
    georgep_z
  • People are naturally resistant to change

    People are naturally resisteant to change. The switch is going to take more than just being a good tool at a set of task.

    Also the places I've worked at are very price concious. The apple units are not exactly available at prices that would satisfy the price concious buyer. It's possible to get a complete working windows set at the same price one would pay for the lowest mac available without the display, mouse, or keyboard.
    alcedes
    • Good points

      ---People are naturally resisteant to change. The switch is going to take more than just being a good tool at a set of task.---

      Yep, and I don't feel this is unreasonable. It's hard enough to run a business without undertaking a huge upheaval.

      ---Also the places I've worked at are very price concious.---

      This is also very true, and very short-term thinking. I can buy the units for less, but I don't think about long term TCO, or about how much I'm paying my IT staff. Apples are probably cheaper over the long haul, despite having to pony up more at the beginning of the process. And given that most managers have to make budget numbers for this year, not for the next 5 years, they're going to sacrifice long term savings for savings right now.
      tic swayback
  • Fat Clients, It Ain't Over

    Fat Clients aren't going away any time soon.
    They'll just have another name.

    [i]Rich Clients:[/i]

    A little info on the Eclipse Standard Widget Toolkit:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Widget_Toolkit

    The OSS Eclipse [i]Rich Client Platform[/i] uses the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) and is the means to writing network-centric applications with that native O/S look and feel while maintaining an O/S agnostic approach.

    If MS doesn't get on the Eclipse bandwagon they will miss yet another [i]big[/i] opportunity.

    I am not ruling out Apple Mac OS X 'for business' especially with OSX Leopard 10.5 just around the corner--'rumored' to have built in installation features allowing for partitioning and putting Linux, Windows XP (maybe even Solaris) along side OSX.

    AJAX will certainly breath new life into browser-based applications but it ain't over until the Fat Client / Rich Client sings!
    D T Schmitz
  • Responding to David's article

    David, a nice piece regarding Apples too little too late strategy. Dietrch made some good points. All future Apples will be ever so much friendlier to Microsoft applications than ever before and I assume to leverage more hardware sales, they will also be dual boot friendly as well. Microsoft systems have been that way since dos before msdos even. What is that 27 years?

    Apple has always taken its business penetration opportunities any way it could wedge a spot, such as in the graphics and photography fields.

    I got to thinking over the last few days about my original hypothesis that Apple may port its OS standalone. Now that I think about it, maybe not. More likely, it will make their hardware super friendly to all the home and small professional users (small office environments) with limited support for the corporate world. Their culture and longstanding attitude toward dominating a market will inevitibly lead to perfecting making their current market 100% compatible first.

    Also, given tens of thousands of apps out there, and assuming they are going to do it by virtual emulation, the high end stuff will be a long time before it gets adopted into Apple for corporate use unless software vendors port that way.

    So what will we get? Really compatible OS neutral home systems with OSX variants, continued upscale hardware and perhaps a few low end introductions like the mini (which isn't so low end now that it's $800 instead of $500).

    If I am wrong and they do the hail mary by selling the OS designed to work on any PC, then that will be an interesting and whole new game.

    By the way, all you thin and web based investors out there, be careful. This thing is going to be limited to non-private data for a very long time. It is not as big as it's cracked up to be. People don't have the trust to start doing everything off the net yet.
    WinnebagoBoy
    • Adding this to above from MacOSRumors.com

      "Apple's emphasis in the 10.5 era will be on resurrecting 'Yellow Box for Windows,' a set of Cocoa (and potentially also Carbon) API's for Windows that would allow Universal Binary applications to run on Windows with a mere 150MB software package installation."

      I pulled the link off of Digg.

      Follows the theory that Windows compatability on MAC OS will be a form of emulation. It will telltale to see how system speeds compare with this method to actually having a truly integrated Windows/Mac OS. Knowing Apple, my bet is it will be pretty darn close and with the announced dual boot today, this all comes together within the year.
      WinnebagoBoy
  • We looked at OS/X

    at Company "F". We had very motivated, anti-M$ people willing to do what it took to make OS/X a success. It was the Apple reps that torpedoed the whole thing with their lack of interest/support/talent. Apple missed a GOLDEN opportunity, ripe for the picking - Company "F" has 180,000 PCs . . .
    Roger Ramjet
  • You spoke too soon / Boot Camp

    Apple announces Boot Camp beta today, free for use on OSX Tiger 10.4.6 (Included in OSX Leopard 10.5):

    http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/

    In a 'business' this certainly does help with migration (away from Windows) strategies, doesn't it?

    It's certainly been an interesting week and it's only Wednesday!
    D T Schmitz
    • I love movie pathos

      Lets see, this brings a few lines in two movies.

      First, regarding dual boot camp: "Captain, there be whales here" from Star Trek IV when Scotty beamed the pregnant whale and mate into the Kleon Hold.

      Lets see, the second movie appropriate to the scene:
      "The sleeper awakens, let the prophecy unfold" from the first Dune.
      WinnebagoBoy