April 1 marks the 30th anniversary of Apple Computer. As our Apple reviews retrospective illustrates, we humble Labs analysts havent been following the company in print for lo these three decades, but we have been tracking Apples products and the enterprise implications of those wares for quite a while now.
While reflecting on the interest weve shown in Apple—an interest that, based on the bulk of e-mail that Apple coverage tends to engender, our readers appear to share—its worth reflecting on whether Apple is actually interested in the enterprise computing market that we cover and our readers comprise.
Apple seems interested—interested enough, at least, to develop enterprise-targeted products such as its Xserve servers, Xsan storage gear and WebObjects application framework. And, of course, theres Apples excellent Mac OS X operating system, which stands on equal footing with any other OS now deployed in the enterprise in terms of polish, performance and functionality.
The pairing of Mac OS X and Apple hardware can be impressive, but, in an enterprise context, its tough to buy that Apple takes itself seriously in the enterprise when its basically asking organizations to give up the leverage and flexibility they enjoy with other options (especially when theyre casting their lot with a firm that appears to like being known best as the maker of the iPod).
Sturdy lock-in between hardware and software may fly for MP3-player firmware, but if an enterprise IT department is to invest in a computing platform, tight-lipped product leadups and single-source vendor relationships cant cut it.
Its not surprising, then, to read the gripes of David Sobotta, formerly of Apples enterprise sales corps, who runs Applepeels, a sort of a poor mans mini-Microsoft, in which Sobotta both lodges complaints about Apples lackluster enterprise sales efforts and somewhat awkwardly works in plugs for his current employer, a hosted mail service. Plugs aside, Sobottas assertions that the enterprise is not a priority at Apple ring true for me.
Why else would the veteran computing firm insist—so far, at least—on withholding much that enterprise customers must take for granted, such as communicative product road maps and the flexibility to find the balance of hardware, operating system and applications that best fit the job at hand?
Apples famous secrecy may make for fantastical trade show keynotes—as well as keep Nick de Plume, et al flush with rumors to report—but its tough to plan ones enterprise infrastructure with little idea where your vertically integrated vendor is headed.
Today, more than ever, enterprises require and expect the flexibility to run OSes and accompanying software on their hardware of choice, such as on virtual machines—an exploding IT terrain on which OS X is not licensed to tread.
Here in our lab, and in the test labs that many of our readers maintain, virtualization occupies a swelling role in evaluations and internal deployment choices. Apples unveiling of the long-hidden x86 version of OS X removes technical barriers to deploying the software in this way, but Apples licensing restrictions remain.
At some level, Apple certainly recognizes these limitations, and yet the firm seems unwilling to deal with the enterprise differently than it deals with iPod buyers.
It may be that Apple is interested in the enterprise after all and that, as I hypothesized last year in an OS X-on-x86 column, theres a secret plan in the works to unleash an OS X Unbound Edition, once Apple gets all of its own Intel migration ducks in a row. Or, perhaps, Apple could introduce OS X Server VMware Edition, with unlimited instances per physical server pricing.
Or, maybe, as many of you are certainly thinking, Apple really is just a consumer company (not that theres anything wrong with that). And if thats really the case, should we in the enterprise bother staying tuned for the next anniversary?
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected].