How Apple can take bite of business market
Apple Inc is taking steps to make its computers run on corporate networks, but these moves fall far short of ensuring Mac users win equal standing in business.
Full corporate access for Apple computers inside businesses remains years away. If and when it comes, acceptance is more than likely to be the result of broad trends reshaping the office computer market, rather than Apple’s own product genius.
This week, the reigning consumer king of computers, music players and smartphones showed off a new operating system, dubbed Snow Leopard, with a handful of tantalizing features built for business.
The new software, due out later this year, will connect Macs to Outlook e-mail systems running Microsoft Exchange — the way that most office workers manage their e-mail, calendars and contacts.
In doing so, Apple is addressing a key issue in the classic Mac vs PC debate over whether its machines are practical for office tasks.
Of course, multimedia-rich Macs already predominate among graphic artists and many Web software designers. And Apple computers are popular with small and medium-sized businesses with skeletal technical staffs.
However, in large organizations, personal computers running Microsoft Windows software remain, by and large, the only option. This is primarily due to cost: Business PCs are half the cost of any Apple machines.
Any notion that Apple can dance its way into offices ignores the fact that corporate technology adoption is not a matter of individual choice but under the rather rigid control of technical administrators. This power extends not just to networks or computers but down to the programs staff use or even what Web sites they see.
Macs, which provide great consumer security protections, lack essential features corporations demand. Nothing Apple has said suggests the company is going to address these vulnerabilities soon.
Beyond the cost of the machine, the network tools for managing complex combinations of servers, desktops and notebooks and storage devices often are kept track of using technologies such as Microsoft’s Active Directory. In hundreds of unseen ways, Apple Macs remain a far cry from standard corporate issue.
But there are other factors that may work in Apple’s favor. Office workers increasingly spend more of their time working on the Web searching for information, checking e-mail, ordering products, watching corporate training videos or listening to Webcasts. Instead of using standard desktop applications, this activity all happens inside browsers and is delivered via network servers rather than being powered by local machines.
Apple machines, with easy-to-use software, slick audio and video features and simple wireless access, have many advantages in this emerging way of working.
Another technology known as visualization gives corporate managers the ability to treat every contact that computers have with their networks as discrete events that can be far more precisely managed. It matters less and less what brand of notebook, Blackberry or other computer device is connecting.
Many companies are moving to a model where they no longer expect only company-purchased devices on their networks. There are too many different work roles requiring too many devices to keep up with it all.
Instead, using a mix of software security techniques, they can grant employees specific access to their office network data from a range of locations and devices, in the office, on the road and at home.
There is growing acceptance that office employees may be working on their own computers, from home or wherever else they may be. This is in part because companies want to save money on providing PCs. It is another potential opening for Apple.
Twenty years after Apple largely conceded the business computing market to Microsoft Windows and PCs, Apple is making tentative steps to once again win acceptance for its machines in corporate offices. Whether or not Mac users win equal footing in business will depend less on Apple’s own initiatives than on management choices that companies are already making.
— At the time of publication Eric Auchard did not own any direct investments in securities mentioned in this article. He may be an owner indirectly as an investor in a fund. —