Apple vs. Microsoft Redux: A Rematch for the Ages

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

10 Business Uses for Your Apple iPad

Uses for your iPad that your boss will approve of.

Isn't it funny how some of the wisest, oldest folk sayings endure even as the world around them changes? I'm reminded of "what is old is new again" and "history always repeats itself" a lot these days considering the current state of enterprise technology.

Who would have thought that the coming decade would be a battle for the soul of the enterprise between ... wait for it ... Apple and Microsoft?

It seems the old guard is gearing up for one more go around, except this time, it's all about who has a leg up on mobile and cloud computing when it comes to connecting people with their data. And while we all know how the last battle turned out - Microsoft and Intel taking the prize with Apple spending years in the wilderness - this time could be very different.

Apple, it seems, has finally figured out (or stumbled upon, depending on your point of view) a way to get between Windows and the user. All it took was a complete re-imagining of the access hardware and then an aggressive program to dominate the new field. It's working so well that Forrester predicts Apple sales to the enterprise - including both Macs and iPads - will top $19 billion this year. That's nearly a 60 percent jump over last year, putting the company on track to hit $28 billion in 2013.

Big deal, you might say. Microsoft is on pace to nearly $70 billion in enterprise sales this year and still has influence over legions of users who rely on Windows for the vast majority of data needs. True enough, but the past is the past, and the fact is Apple is sitting in the driver's seat when it comes to the major trends sweeping the enterprise: mobile computing and social networking. Microsoft is still likely to become a major player in cloud architecture development (more on that in a second), but the erosion of users from Windows to iOS will hit the company where it lives.

And it seems Apple is keenly aware of what's at stake. Witness the company's recent purchase of Israeli startup Anobit Technologies. The company makes semiconductors and other components designed to enhance signal processing for NAND Flash storage environments, whether they be housed in a mobile device or a PC. By building so much commonality between the iPad and the Mac platform, Apple hopes its success in mobile technology will drive a need for compatibility in enterprise systems.

So far, things look pretty bad for Microsoft. But as analyst Stephen Simpson points out on, Microsoft is not without options. For one, it still has a significant presence in back office operations, where the Azure platform can be more easily leveraged for quickly growing cloud operations. And it's still possible that Redmond could stake a claim in the mobile market if the upcoming Lumia smartphone lives up to expectations. The company has also put out the welcome mat for the ARM processors that power mobile technology and still has a play in voice communications with the Skype acquisition.

The major difference between Apple vs. Windows today and Apple vs. Windows in 1985 is that the enterprise is a much more diverse environment these days. With Google, Rackspace and others looking to dominate the cloud, VMware sitting on the virtual layer and everyone from Cisco, Brocade, HP and IBM vying over hardware, there's no telling which combination, if any, will emerge as the preferred end-to-end solution.

Everybody likes a come-back story, and Apple's is one for the ages. The fact that it is now in a position to settle some old scores just goes to show you: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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