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  • Macs for Business: Does Apple Care?

    May 12th, 2006

    Consider a company looking to update its computers. What influences its decision? Take, for example, the new “Get a Mac” ad campaign now dominating the TV airwaves. Can you imagine a company’s technical people rushing to an Apple Store after they air? What is Apple’s market focus these days?

    Well, to use the iPod as the example, it is the person who wants a fashionable music player, and it covers a surprising number of people from various age categories and political persuasions. That is, of course, if you consider some of the more famous owners, and you know you’re apt to see lots of people walking or taking public transportation who are wearing the famous Apple ear buds. You might even be one of them.

    But how does this translate to a possible Mac purchase? No doubt it’s a question that is being analyzed carefully now that Mac market share seems to be on the rise.

    The neat thing about all this is the fact that any Mac can function quite well in a business environment, although the integrated iSight and Front Row remote might seem to weigh against such considerations. Consider, also, Apple’s priorities. When I interviewed one of their product managers about the matter a few months ago on an episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I suggested that the iMac would be the ideal business-oriented personal computer in many environments. She didn’t ignore the subject, but she didn’t expand on the possibilities, as if the concept wasn’t a priority.

    To be sure, the Intel-equipped iMac is quite powerful enough to handle nearly all the business tasks you throw at it, and, in fact, rivals dual processor G5 Power Macs in many respects. Even under Rosetta emulation, Microsoft Office runs fast enough, and Adobe Photoshop performance is more than adequate for many functions, so long as you aren’t handling files that are many megabytes in size. Besides Macs remain staples in creative departments, and the iMac is not overpriced when you consider what it offers. Besides it looks just great in the front office.

    The Mac mini might even be a better choice in many settings. A business can use its existing monitors and input devices, and it shouldn’t seem strange to see a Dell display, keyboard and mouse all connected to the mini. Or maybe you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look carefully. At first brush, you’d assume the PC minitower was placed below the desk or on a hidden shelf. Why even say anything at all, unless someone looks at the image on the display and gets the real skinny on the kind of computer being used?

    But the iLife ’06 software that Apple touts so often in its promotional announcements isn’t something a business is apt to use, although I suppose iPhoto might serve as a simple method to organize product photos before they are placed in the appropriate publishing and graphics software.

    But what about business-oriented software? If you look at Apple’s standard bundle, just what do you see? Well, at one time, you would find AppleWorks, a perfectly decent office suite, actually. It can read and write Microsoft Office files, and has most of the features real people use. It’s fast enough, and nowhere near as bloated as Office, but it isn’t provided on the new Intel-based Macs, and when it was bundled, you’d only find it on a consumer Mac.

    Earlier this year, I checked out a Power Mac G5 Quad, still the most powerful computer in Apple’s lineup. Business offerings were limited. Yes, you’d find a QuickBooks 2006 New User Edition, Graphic Converter, a terrific file translation a simple editing utility, and Xcode for software developers. Word processors? Just demo versions of iWork ’06 and Office. Yes, I said demos. A typical PC box will usually include a fully-functioning application of one sort or another, although cheaper models often rely on Corel’s WordPerfect rather than Word.

    What sort of signal does that send to the prospective business user? What do they need with iLife? Oh yes, there is a copy of the Zinio reader, which lets you peruse digital versions of magazines. That Power Mac, by the way, came with a sample copy of a 2004 edition of Macworld, and don’t forget the offer of a free short-term subscription for owners of new Macs.

    Even if Apple’s bundle is somewhat light on business-related software, what about the build-to-order choices? Well, you can select iWork for a MacBook Pro and Final Cut Express for Power Macs. Not Office, not Photoshop, not even InDesign or QuarkXPress. The situation is the same if you consult the business department at Apple’s online storefront.

    To be sure, a business customer will usually have licenses for a number of copies of the programs they need, but being able to get a packaged solution, with everything they need preloaded on a brand new Mac, ought to simplify setup and support. Of course, third party resellers will often customize Macs to include the software, but this isn’t something Apple is doing in its public offerings.

    Alas, business doesn’t seem to be Apple’s priority. Maybe they’ve given up on penetrating the staid business marketplace, or maybe it’s a stealth approach. You buy a Mac for your home, and relish in the ability to also run Windows at top speed when you need it, and eventually you decide to acquire the same products for your business. Over time, it might even make sense, although it would be nice to know Apple had some sort of business strategy, a direct approach that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.

    It would also be nice not to run into a business user who still thinks Macs are only good for graphics.

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