Apple and the Enterprise: Change Is in the Wind


Apple, in sharp contrast to Microsoft, clearly thinks IT managers don't provide any value in terms of determining their products or solutions. But, if you look at the result, couldn't you argue that the result is a more desirable product? I wonder whether Microsoft made a mistake to focus on the needs of IT because it pulled focus from the user; the result has been products like Vista that weren't that attractive to users and didn't move well in business anyway.


The big problem with Apple in the enterprise has been Exchange support, particularly as it relates to calendaring and scheduling. With Snow Leopard and the now seemingly adequate Mobile Me, Apple will have that support. So I'm wondering whether we'll see a significant influx in the enterprise market as a result. With one big exception, I'd say this is likely. Let's talk about that.


IT Doesn't Matter on the Desktop


At the beginning of the PC revolution around 1984, PCs were focused on individuals. IT, for the most part, wasn't interested in supporting them. Individuals drove them into companies out of their own budgets so they could thumb their noses at IT organizations that listened poorly, responded slowly and generally delivered solutions that had little to do with requested capabilities. Operational organizations were pissed, and they demonstrated their displeasure by systematically shifting lots of tasks that typically would have been done on a mid-range or mainframe computer to PCs.


Shortly thereafter, Apple created the Lisa computer, which was targeted at the enterprise market. It failed spectacularly, while the Mac actually did rather well in business for the next five years, even though it was more targeted to users.


Later, Microsoft brought out Windows 95, arguably the most successful of the operating systems in terms of penetration and excitement. People lined up around stores and users brought it into enterprises in large numbers over the objections of IT. Windows NT, which was targeted at the enterprise, struggled for numbers until Windows 2000 came out on top of the need to adjust for the Y2K problem and moved aggressively into business. From that point, enterprise focus led Microsoft's efforts and its growth and valuation stagnated.


Windows XP was hardly an exciting release, but it merged the bases and Windows ME had been such a huge disaster that the Windows 9x base was old and ready to move. The product slowly displaced most of what preceded it. Windows Vista hit the market and mostly bounced; consumer value appeared subordinated to IT value, and even though a number of large sites planned to deploy the product, most were unable to because the line organizations wouldn't fund the deployments. The focus on IT took the focus off the consumer, and the consumer didn't drive the product into business.


I believe that while it is important to address IT needs, the primary focus for a desktop product should be on the user if it is to aggressively move into a market and be successful.


Snow Leopard


I think a successful product moving against an entrenched technology, like mainframes and mid-range computers in the past, or Windows XP in the present, would need to embrace the user but not create problems that would cause IT to try to block it. Snow Leopard isn't designed to embrace IT; it is designed to prevent IT from blocking it. It operates under the assumption that the user has power when it comes to purchasing things and that IT only has power as it relates to protecting the business. In short, users drive advancements (these tools are for them, after all), and IT tries to make sure that the problems created don't bring unacceptable risks to the corporation.


That goes to the core of Snow Leopard's design. And while I think it could give IT more influence, it is hard to argue that what Apple has done isn't effective.


Wrapping Up: Is the Enterprise Ready for Snow Leopard?


The answer to that question is up for each IT organization to determine. I'm sitting with a bunch of analysts as I write this and those that were at the Apple developers event do think that users will begin bringing Apple products into the enterprise in large numbers when Snow Leopard is released. Given that many of these users will be spending their own money to do this and that user-purchased hardware frees up capital budgets for other things, maybe IT's best path (possibly only path) is to support the move and make sure Snow Leopard doesn't break things. Certainly, in the past, when IT tried to block moves like this, it lost power. Loss of power in this market would have unfortunate implications for budgets and head count.


Two things that could break this trend need to be noted. Apple, while clearly patching aggressively, doesn't appear to take security seriously publicly. If there is a breach and litigation, this inconsistency between internal and external positions could lock it out of enterprises, which don't want another untrustworthy vendor. The other is that Apple products are comparatively expensive and the current market is heavily focused on cost. This last can be mitigated by shifting support costs to the user as companies like Cisco have done, but the appearance of supplying employees with luxury products in a tight market is a difficult one to justify to investors and financial analysts.


In the end, I think we are in the forefront of an adjustment where users take back some power and begin to define their solutions again. Changes like this seldom benefit the entrenched vendor, and Apple appears unusually well positioned to take advantage of the situation.