Apple takes a pass on the enterprise prize

For the first time in decades, Apple has a chance to compete in the corporate computing marketplace. But does the company have the chops to take on Microsoft?

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I tried going to the source to find out more. About three weeks ago, I put the question to Apple's PR department: What is Apple's strategy for selling computers to corporations? The company has had every chance to answer that question; several very good PR people have contacted me, but they haven't had anything of substance to say. The sum total of the direct response so far has been: "Look at the Business page on the Apple Web site." The Apple Business page is aimed at small businesses, not large corporations. There's nothing on this page of interest to corporate IT pros.

To succeed in the corporate marketplace, there are several things Apple has to do. It needs a corporate product line (a thought I'll elaborate on in a moment). It needs corporate pricing, including a volume-licensing strategy. It needs a corporate salesforce. It needs IT-oriented support policies and quality levels.

It's not clear to me that Apple has the right stuff to sell to the corporate marketplace. Who knows, perhaps Steve Jobs is making the right decision in steering away from large corporations. Maybe he knows Apple can't succeed there because it just isn't culturally suited to the business of selling to other businesses. But when it comes to building hardware for big business, there's no doubt in my mind that Apple could succeed.

Enterprise Macs

Over the last year or two, several experts and pundits -- some of whom were writing for Computerworld -- have said that Apple's existing product line would work fine as is for IT. But that's just not the case. There are several issues with Mac hardware that keeps it from being ideal.

The MacBook Pro 15 and 17 models are too expensive by about $600 to $700 to compete with top-quality Windows notebooks, such as the Lenovo T60 series. Companies need to be able to purchase a MacBook Pro for around $1,900 with 2GB of RAM and a 120GB drive.

While it's very easy to upgrade RAM in the MacBook Pros, it's difficult to replace hard drives. To succeed in the corporate marketplace, Apple needs to adopt user-removable hard drives. That makes it much easier for IT departments to troubleshoot and fix their users' problems without having to crack the case of a notebook -- something that's a little touchy with the Macs.

The lack of a docking station option from Apple is also a serious drawback. It may sound minor, but docking stations are heavily used by companies that have adopted the no-desktop approach. Busy employees bring their notebooks home to work there, and also on the road. The docking station cuts down on cable connections, which, in turn, cuts down on help desk calls. At the very least, without the docking station, the 15-in. model needs a third USB port like the 17-in. MBP.

In some corporations, the subnotebook with 13.3-in. screen has become the staple computer. Frequent travelers prefer the smaller size and heft of subnotebooks. Apple's MacBook occupies this form factor, but the company designed it for students, not execs.

Although it's easy to upgrade RAM and the MacBook's hard drive, Apple's entry-level laptop has just two USB ports, doesn't have a docking station, and the screen is small for working on spreadsheets, presentations and many other common business pursuits. Happily, the MacBook does support an external display with up to 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution. But back on the downside, the Chiclet-style keyboard isn't appealing to touch typists.

Finally, the MacBook is thicker than the MacBook Pros. To build the small and light notebook that many corporate users crave, Apple should start with the MacBook Pro case and trim it for a 13.3-in. display. It doesn't have to be aluminum, but it does have to look upscale, and it needs the same flexibility and upgradeability I suggested for the MacBook Pro.

IT pros should be able to snag this 13.3-in. MacBook for business at around $1,400 with 2GB of RAM and a 100GB hard drive.

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