How About a Real Business Mac?

October 9th, 2008

One of the earliest superstitions bandied about when it came to a Mac was that it wasn’t a serious business computer. In those days, real computers used command line interfaces, and Apple’s graphical flourishes were meant as entertainment. You couldn’t, they said, get any real work done on one of those little boxes. But since Apple wasn’t heavily into games, just what could you do?

Well, of course, there was the advent of desktop publishing, for one, which turned one industry upside down. I also recall how quickly musicians adapted to Macs, and used them for digital recording studios.

Later, when Microsoft embraced a similar operating system concept, by building a graphical interface layer on DOS, using technology they acquired from Apple — and don’t get me started on that subject — the excuses had to change.

These days, Apple continues to foster the impression that Macs are strictly consumer computers, what with the iLife suite bundled on every model. They’re great for getting online, sending email, managing your digital photos and music, but when it comes to word processing and spreadsheets, it’s still Windows all the way.

This, of course, ignores the fact that Microsoft’s Mac business suite is quite good, actually, and fully compatible with the Windows version. So if you must use Office, the Mac is not an impediment. Besides, all the Adobe applications that content creators use are still available on the Mac, where most actually debuted.

However, Apple hasn’t really gone after the enterprise when it comes to Macs, but that may be poised to change.

It all began with the decision to support Microsoft Exchange with the latest iteration of iPhone software. In fact, Apple went directly to Microsoft to license ActiveSync rather than use some third-party alternative that wouldn’t be fully comptible. That decision puts the iPhone in a different league, as a direct competitor to the BlackBerry. So businesses no longer have excuses to bar iPhones from their employees.

Indeed, recent retail surveys have demonstrated that the iPhone has risen to the top of the heap among smartphones in the U.S. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but we’ll know that soon enough.

When it comes to Macs, however, other than the Mac Pro workstation, all design elements seem to be geared to individuals rather than businesses. Beginning with Snow Leopard, or Mac OS 10.6, though, there is the promise of full support for Exchange.

That represents a potential paradigm change for Apple.

Now why would Apple add Exchange support if they didn’t intend to go after the business market in a way they never have previously? It’s not as if Exchange is a consumer-level email server; far from it. In fact, until its spate of network difficulties became well known, Apple had marketed the service formerly known as .Mac as “Exchange for the rest of us.”

But where does that put the current Mac lineup? I mean, the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro are surely creditable products for any company regardless of department. But the MacBook and iMac seem far more tailored for students and home-based users. Do you really expect to see them on lots of corporate desktops?

The other issue is the extra gear that Apple provides, such as the built-in iSight Web cams, which would surely not qualify for a work environment. After all, it’s not as if the boss wants you wasting your time chatting online with your aunt in Colorado, or your sister in Australia.

While Apple does let you customize your new Mac to some extent online — or via many dealers — you can’t ditch the consumer-grade stuff. You’ve got to take it the way they deliver it, iSight and all.

Now wouldn’t it makes sense to develop a parallel line of business-only Macs that ditched some of this stuff, and even shipped with hard drives without iLife? It’s not as if they serve a purpose at the office, except to allow you to goof off, right?

I can’t say that the price would come down that much, except for money saved from losing the iSight. But it would allow the enterprise to more easily add Macs to their ordering lists. What’s more — and Apple has done this before — they could provide custom-configured models with Microsoft or Adobe’s suites preloaded, for example. That would mean that a company wouldn’t have to mess with multiple seat licensing schemes, or manual deployment to computers via a network feed or direct installation.

Yes, such things are done routinely by PC makers who provide so many configuration options, the mind boggles. In those cases, however, the situation ends up being unduly confusing. Apple’s great advantage here is that they restrict themselves to a small number of models and configuration possibilities. So any business-oriented Mac lineup would have to be considered from the same vantage point.

Such a strategy might, in fact, create the need for the midrange minitower that I’ve talked about so often, the one that I’ve already dismissed as a viable Apple product. Prove me wrong, please!

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5 Responses to “How About a Real Business Mac?”

  1. Jim says:

    Actually, from my experience, a Mini with monitor, keyboard, and mouse would be perfectly adequate for 99% of business tasks. Capability beyond running Office is gravy. What keeps Macs out of business is IT stubborn-itis.

  2. Jim wrote:

    Actually, from my experience, a Mini with monitor, keyboard, and mouse would be perfectly adequate for 99% of business tasks. Capability beyond running Office is gravy. What keeps Macs out of business is IT stubborn-itis.

    You make a great point. However, Apple seems to want to keep the mini in the product lineup as its invisible computer. Did you know that they even use somewhat souped up minis as Web servers too?


  3. Rene says:

    I think we’ll see this soon enough. The issue of IT unwillingness to support the Mac is becoming less of an obstacle. At work we have a mixed selection of Mac, Win, Linux but it wasn’t always like that and because of the increase in Mac/Linux systems they’re scrambling to support these systems because if they don’t then they’ll find someone that’s more capable.

  4. javaholic says:

    Interestingly, a few of our smaller clients are now integrating Macs – both iMacs and MacBooks – into their workflows. One CEO solely because he wanted Keynote after he’d seen some of the presentations we’d done. 🙂 On a larger scale, I’m wondering how well equipped Apple actually is to handle the demands of enterprise. The MobileMe launch was something Apple learned a hard lesson on, and it exposed an immature side of the company when it comes to more complex software integration. Even .Mac continues to have its share of snags.

    I think for them to really succeed they’d need to dramatically change their business model – perhaps even set up a dedicated ‘Apple Enterprise’ or whatever – maybe that fourth leg that’s missing. They’d need to build a solid infrastructure that provides specific support for companies at any size and/or level, communicate openly when it comes to software patches, deployment and development, provide open hardware and software roadmaps and so on. With Apples track record being spotty at best when it comes to being an open book, IT may continue to question how deeply the Mac is integrated within each environment.

    Then again, with Snow Leopard on the horizon, maybe we’ll see a new stance. Still, like all things Apple, it really depends on what Steve wants to do.

  5. Andrew says:

    Apple makes it a bit more difficult than it needs to be. I am in the process of moving my law firm completely to Mac, with three additional Mac clients and replacing a Windows Small Business Server 2003 with a Leopard Server. The tools are great, but the support is mediocre.

    Apple’s tech support for the server OS is 90 days, which is fine, but what isn’t fine is their unwillingness to help with required settings. My business is small, so I don’t have an IT guy, and Apple’s response questions relating to what settings my web host needs is just a recommendation that I pay for their Server AppleCare program at $6000 or hire a consultant.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, talked me through the settings needed to make SBS work and work it did. I had VPN, mail and everything else working fine, taking the list of settings they gave me and providing it to my web host and ISP.

    The software itself is far superior on the Apple side, I just need help making it all work, and with all of the money I spent on hardware and software, there just isn’t budget left for an expensive consultant or support plan.

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