Apple and Business: Is it 25 Years Too Late?

Is Apple too late to engage the enterprise?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Hey, Apple's releasing the Insanely Great iPhone SDK so we can all write enterprise iPhone applications! They're going to make the iPhone compete with the BlackBerry and hook it up to corporate Exchange email servers! Whoopee! Apple has a Business strategy!

Oy vey.

Look, I think it's great that Apple is finally doing something with the iPhone to make it into something that Crackberry addicts like myself might finally find as an attractive alternative.

Certainly, something needs to be done to shake RIM out of its comfort zone and actually start to make them respond to very real confidence issues their customers have about their network infrastructure and their seemingly stagnant software and hardware platform.

But creating an ISV ecosystem for the iPhone and hooking it up to Microsoft Exchange doth not an enterprise strategy make, and I don't give a damn how much the fanboys want to spin it or want to roast my bulging form in effigy for it.

For Apple to have a real Enterprise strategy, they are going to have to do better than iPhones and sex appeal. Certainly, it's evident that they can make high-end, boutique systems and storage of the sort for media content creation professionals and shops that used to buy SGI systems.

So Apple is now the new SGI. I don't think I need to say anything more about about what happened to those guys, do I?

Much of this enterprise cluelessness stems from a 25-year history of Steve Jobs and his legacy at Apple of not really caring about what businesses actually want. I don't fault Steve Jobs for being the visionary and creative person he is -- in fact, I admire him greatly.

The Apple II was my first personal computer, and I ran one of the very first NeXT labs when I was at American University in the late '80s. I also developed some very early WebObjects-based web sites and worked with OpenStep machines at Canon during the 90's, so I know very well what evolutionary roots Mac OS X stems from and what it can do for business if the technology is properly applied.

The NeXT and Mac OS X technology is elegant, and there is nothing wrong with it from a pure software architecture perspective. The problem is that Steve Jobs and Apple doesn't really give a damn about how to apply the technology to business and make it attractive to enterprises in order to mass adopt it.

For Apple, pretty much throughout its entire sordid history, they've all been about empowering the individual human being with personal computing and technology -- and breaking the mold. All of us who are at least in our late 30's know and remember the "1984" superbowl commercial, the "Think Different" print ads and the current generation of "I'm a Mac, I'm A PC" series of TV spots.

Apple is very good at defining its image in sound bites and marketing to its core demographic, which has paid off for them throughout its entire history. Unfortunately and predictably, this message has fallen on the enterprise as smarmyness and arrogance.

If you want to put Steve Jobs and Apple into a box as far as CIOs and most real companies are concerned, Smarmyness and Arrogance about sums it up.

What can Apple do to improve its situation? The iPhone SDK and the corporate email connectivity is a good start, but it's really a drop in the bucket if Apple really wants to become an enterprise vendor and have their operating system compete with the big boys.

To do that, they need to get Mac OS X into the enterprise. But enterprises aren't going to be ditching their Dell, IBM, HP and EMC servers and storage for Apple xServes. Nobody is going to be throwing out their commodity desktop PCs and laptops with Windows for shiny new Macs at the scale that would be required to make a serious dent to Windows' market share.

Nobody is going to run virtualized Mac OS X Server boxes on VMWare ESX on high density blades and ultra-scalable X86 systems in the datacenter, because it's illegal to run Mac OS X on anything other than a Mac.

It's a shame, because if Apple could figure out how to play nice with those vendors, as opposed to having the Twilight-Zone style "We control the platform" and "not invented here" philosophy, we really could and truly Think Different.

I have to think that if Apple's great Intel migration would have included the ability for Mac OS X Server to legally run on any x86 system, and a more open philosophy, we wouldn't necessarily be looking at Linux as the clear successor to the mid-range and high-performance UNIX platform today.

Is it ever too late for Apple to embrace a more open philosophy and give business what they really want? Talk back and let me know.

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