Ryan Faas

Apple's challenge to breaking into the enterprise IT market

With organizations as large as the US Department of Transportation and the FAA placing a moratorium on purchases of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007, one can't help but wonder if we are beginning to see the end of Microsoft's domination of the business IT space. If that is the case, it certainly won't be a quick end - many businesses may just opt to remain with Windows XP for some time to come, just as many waited for some time to upgrade from Windows 2000 to XP. But, if Microsoft's hold is loosening, does that mean Apple will be able to make a successful grab for the business market? I think that it is possible that Apple could exploit this ambivalence. As I argued in a recent column, Mac OS X is a prime contender for small businesses. But, what about larger enterprise environments? Apple has historically not been taken seriously by corporate IT managers. Some of that can be traced back to the late eighties when Apple delivered the Macintosh and the laser printer to take advantage of its graphics capabilities. Apple's delay in developing a multi-user operating system or a true server platform throughout the late eighties and through much of the nineties helped build a view of the Mac as not being a serious platform for corporate environments because it didn't deliver those features needed in enterprise networks. The irony of this impression is that with Mac OS X Server's powerful feature set, simple and low-cost licensing model (at least compared to most Windows Server versions), and the highly scalable Xserve and Xserve RAID hardware, Apple has transformed itself itself into a serious enterprise solution. If Apple will can continue to prove that point, it could take over a significant portion of the enterprise market. Unfortunately, Apple does have an achilles heal when it comes to proving itself in the enterprise space: the desire to wow people. Apple maintains a constant "wow factor" with each new product because it keeps those products tightly under wraps until Steve Jobs generates a media circus by announcing them. This makes for great drama and excitement (not to mention great press coverage) whenever Apple introduces a consumer product. In the enterprise IT space, however, managers aren't looking to be surprised. IT managers want to see a roadmap of where serious solutions are headed before they invest serious money in hardware, software, training, and transitions to a new platform. This makes perfect sense given the money, resources, and reputation that a manager is placing on the line by switching platforms in a large environment. Providing an enterprise roadmap will always result in some secrets leaking out - be they about upcoming enterprise products or consumer products. This results in less "wow" when those products are announced and create a real challenge for how Apple wants to be perceived. If Apple is going to make a serious grab for the enterprise market, it will need to find some way balancing the need for "wow" with the need to provide enterprise customers with solid information about future products and plans. Ultimately, it may be Apple's success (or lack of it) at this balancing game that will determine whether the company can become a serious player in the enterprise.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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