Before I begin what will undoubtedly sound like another one of those Mac-o-phile rants in defense against anti-Apple sacrilege, let me first make full disclosure. I am, generally speaking, operating system- and processor-agnostic. Ive seen many who dedicated their careers to a specific technology base wind their way to obscurity and underemployment. For example, you dont see too many OS/2 columnists around these days.
At the same time, I am also a command-line geek. In the early 90s, I was writing complex software distribution and system configuration routines in DOS batch script. I installed WordPerfect 2.0 for SCO Unix/386 at a Baltimore law firm and taught a paralegal the secret wonders of chmod.
So, when I say that I think that Jim Louderback and Rob Enderle have entered some reality-distortion field of their own making on the topic of Apples viability on the desktop, its not the ravings of some Cupertino-is-Mecca crackpot. Not at all. When I say that theyve taken leave of their senses, I say it out of respect and admiration for their otherwise flawless logic.
But theyve both clearly taken leave of their senses when it comes to Apple.
Louderback says that “Apple has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dominate the emerging convergence world. But its legacy operations are dragging it down. Kill the computers, Steve, and embrace the home.”
This thesis on Apple is flawed in one simple way—Louderback believes that success as a “media center” means abandoning the desktop. The digital hub doesnt have to live in the living room, and theres little evidence that people actually want it there. Home networking technology will be integrated into consumer electronics devices easily enough without needing to make the PC another component of the entertainment center.
Meanwhile, Rob Enderle points to Apples declining market share. “The PC market is growing at a rate of between 16 and 20 percent, but Apple is growing its PC business at only a 5 percent clip. This means Apple is still dropping market share at a rapid pace,” he says.
Enderle continues with the stats: “On the other hand, the MP3 player market is growing at a whopping 85 to 90 percent pace. Apples growth in that market is an almost unbelievable 900 percent, currently accounting for much of the companys profit and revenue growth.”
Well, theres more to being successful than market share, as Bill Ford finally figured out—you have to be profitable, too. Simply jockeying for market share means forgetting about things like sustainable quality.
Hardware Thats Too Good
But why doesnt Apple enjoy a larger market share? Well, anecdotal evidence would point to the lifespan of Apples older hardware—it just stays functional for too long.
Now, I wont be drawn into any of these performance-related pantomimes that Apple has staged to try to prove its MHz were better than GHz in the past. But even Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have as much as admitted that processor clock speed is no longer the gold standard for performance. Its what you can do with the horsepower that counts. Or keep doing, in Apples case.
Louderback called the Power Macintosh G4 Cube a “boat anchor.” Sure, it had design problems, like the faulty power switch that Apple ended up replacing on many systems. But Im typing this column on a G4 Cube that I bought four years ago with my own money—and its survived three operating-system upgrades without any noticeable drop in performance. If anything, its gotten faster.
On the other hand, one of my PC file servers was literally rebooted to death by Windows Updates. As for the desktop PC I purchased around the same time as the Cube, the best I can say about this machine is that it runs Linux well.
Maybe the reason Apple doesnt have bigger market share is that its machines dont become boat anchors as quickly as PCs.
To deal with this longevity, Apple has adopted a downright insidious approach to spur customers to refresh their hardware. It created must-have software as a lure.
Many wondered how Apple could make money off of applications such as iTunes and iPhoto and the rest of the inexpensive iLife suite. The answer became evident when Apple started making newer, cooler versions of the software dependent on newer, cooler hardware.
Want to rock out with GarageBand? Youll need to buy a system with an integrated SuperDrive DVD Recorder first, thank you.
The Missing Enterprise Mac
The same things that make Macs work well in the home make them work just as well in the office. Generally speaking, I find Macs easier to network and easier to support on a daily basis than PCs.
In a small office environment, Id be comfortable using a PowerMac G5 tower as an application server, file server and a workstation at the same time. Id never do that with a Windows system. And unless it were the system administrators workstation, Id never do that with Linux, either.
Ive been using a Mac OS X desktop alongside (and often instead of) Windows and Linux since the first release. And while Ive had gripes about developer tool support and various minor aspects of the Apple experience, I can say without hesitation that Id rather support an office full of Mac OS X machines than an office full of PCs running whatever combination of Windows they might have loaded.
Certainly, Mac OS X is a good chunk of the reason for that. Like Linux, OS X avoids the Windows problem of allowing users to run applications as “root.”
Admittedly, there isnt as much Mac software as there is Windows software. Still, the Mac has better commercial desktop software support than Linux. At the same time, since its based on an open-source, BSD-like Unix, I can leverage much of the open-source software available to Linux users.
That kind of flexibility is why Apple continues to have such a strong core constituency with “creatives” (small, high-value companies that rely on high personal creativity as a measure of productivity). It also makes the Mac increasingly attractive as a development platform for applications of all sorts; Mac OS X systems have a strong following at Sun, for example, where many developers working on the companys latest Java development tools used Macs.
In fact, if anything has made Apples desktop strategy obsolete, its Apples portable strategy. The PowerBook and iBook lines have reached the point where they offer the same (or better) functionality as similarly priced desktops.
So, why buy into the bifurcated marketing approach that PC vendors seem to be following? Why split the home and the office apart, the desktop and mobile computing apart, when a single, portable computing device can act as the digital hub at home, as the networked client at work and as both everywhere in between?
Besides, Apple already has a platform for going after the media center—the iPod. Easily connected and federated devices such as the iPod make specialized “media” PCs pointless.
When everything you need to present media can be brought down to a simple, portable, reliable device that can connect to existing consumer electronics devices rather than supplant them, why use a complex, unreliable, insecure technology base instead?