Is Apple Ready for the Corporate Desktop, or Will Google Get There First?

Rob Enderle

We recently had one large company announce it was going to the Mac. I remember a few years back talking to the new CIO of a multinational pharmaceutical company -- the last time I saw a decision like this. He was the new CIO because the old one, and virtually all of the executive IT staff, had been fired by their board for making a similar decision. Funny thing (well, not all that funny) is, this company had been largely an Apple shop to begin with. That was then, this is now, and Apple is clearly on a roll.

Google is coming up fast; you could argue it has more corporate seats now through search than Apple has ever had, but it is a good distance from actually having a solution that could displace Microsoft. Its strategy is to trivialize the OS and its win would not necessarily mean Apple's loss, because if the OS is irrelevant, then Apple's barrier to entry would be vastly lower. But its win would mean Google would likely get the majority of the desktop revenue. This last is something neither Microsoft nor Apple would want.

Linux is in the game as well, but we've covered that elsewhere and we'll give the open source guys the day off on this one.

Microsoft won't be standing quietly by either, but its competitive response won't really show up until Windows 7. Right now, market momentum is working against it, thanks to Vista's poor enterprise showing and the related frustration from the OEMs. Recall that IBM owned the desktop, such as it was, going into the '80s. Ten years later (when things were moving vastly slower), Microsoft owned it. So change can happen, and the market is signaling change.

Apple: Hard Choices

From a technology standpoint, Leopard looks very good as an enterprise platform. However, the recent announcements with iWork once again put the future of Office for the Mac at risk. That could cause many to speculate that, just like Microsoft did with IE, it will walk away from Office on the Mac because it doesn't want to compete with a severe disadvantage.

Office for the Mac has always lacked the solid Exchange support it needed to really bridge the gap anyway, and support for native applications still requires an emulator or a virtual machine to work (which, right now, generally requires a copy of Windows). However, more and more things are moving to the Web and with a Web interface. Unfortunately, Safari isn't considered the most compatible with IE of all of the browsers. Fortunately, Firefox runs on the Mac and its compatibility may be good enough for most, but it still creates a complex solution where Apple doesn't assure the outcome. This represents added risk and works against the decision.

Working for it is what people believe to be a more secure and stable platform. The reality may be different, but purchase decisions are based on beliefs and if a decision maker believes the platform is better (and there is a lot of frustration with Windows right now), they are more likely to take the leap.

The problems for Apple are fourfold:

  1. It is moving against Microsoft traditionally, with a heavy desktop solution. This is Microsoft's best protected turf; it has application compatibility advantages, financial incentive advantages, is the entrenched vendor, and has interoperability/integration advantages. Oh, and financially, Microsoft could still buy Apple for cash and is likely not going to give up without a fight.
  2. IT doesn't want to exchange one set of problems for another. They want more transparency with vendors, not less. Open source is now the battle cry for those the most upset with Microsoft and Apple, while it makes use of BSD, is about as far from open as we get in this business. IT wants roadmaps on software and hardware and to know that, if they have a problem, the vendor will jump to address it. Those that want to change are about as far from Apple sheep as you are likely to get. Apple doesn't share, it doesn't jump, and it depends heavily on a user base that will take whatever it dishes out.
  3. IT doesn't like to single source. If they had their way, there would be two Microsofts. Moving into a solution where they can't bid out the hardware either will be almost impossible for some shops given the approvals needed to single source large deals. Even if they could get through the first two points, this last could be virtually impossible for most, given reporting requirements and ongoing internal audit risks.
  4. Switching costs are scary. Not many companies have made the switch so how much it will cost to make the move isn't clearly known. This is a base that is balking at Vista where the switching costs are relatively low. Still, Vista works for Apple because many firms feel they will have to endure some switching costs anyway and the delta between Vista and the Mac OS is smaller than the delta between Windows 2000/XP and the Mac OS. It is the unknown nature of the Mac switching cost that may make the first movers very hard to get moving.

Are these game killers? No. Two are in Apple's control and the last can be corrected with enough Apple funding. The first remains a big problem that likely would prevent Apple from gaining much more than 10 percent market share even if the last three were effectively addressed. The way to move against a dominant vendor is to change the rules and Apple is still operating much the same as it did in the '80s, though the world has changed.


Google: Change the Rules, Own the Market


In a very short time, Google has blown past Apple, AOL/Netscape, Oracle and IBM to become Microsoft's greatest competitor. It didn't do that by building hardware or working on an OS; it did that by largely ignoring where Microsoft was and moving where it was not. It looked out at a world that was vastly changed from the time when PCs were born and realized that the real fight was on the Internet and that there was an untapped significant funding source that could eliminate Microsoft's funding advantage. In short, Google changed the game and currently has more enterprise, small business and consumer presence than Apple has ever had. Granted, it exists alongside Apple and Microsoft, but it is growing faster and is more profitable, as a percentage of revenue, than either, and not by a trivial margin either.


Like Microsoft, Google will partner with almost everyone. Like Apple, it focuses on the user experience. Unlike either, it understands the advertising revenue source and is moving to lock most of it up. I think you could argue that, in search, Google has a level of dominance that comes close to Microsoft's in most geographies.


Unlike Apple, Google's is not an all-or-nothing strategy either. It moves in one piece at a time, this widget, that applet, then an application or two. If successful, most of the value of the desktop will be from Google and you may no longer really care if you have a PC or an appliance with an embedded OS on it.


What slows it down significantly is its dependence on the Internet. Laptops are the fastest growing hardware and laptops are often disconnected. This too is changing, however; airplanes are getting wireless and WiMax is due to roll out shortly. Still, in most cases, latency will then become a problem and Google's desktop productivity solutions don't deal with that well yet.


Google's barriers to entry are largely technical; it is on a vastly better attack vector than Apple but doesn't have an offering that is as mature. If I were to bet which one could displace Microsoft, Google has vastly more potential than Apple does because it moves against Microsoft's weaknesses while Apple largely moves against Microsoft's strengths.


Wrapping Up: Apple, Google, Linux or Windows


Winning is about hard choices. To take out IBM/Lotus/Novell, Microsoft had to make some incredibly painful choices. The end result was market dominance. Apple would have to make choices that, right now, are virtually impossible with Steve Jobs at the helm. For Linux, a similar problem exists in that it would probably have to stop being Linux to make the jump. Google doesn't have to change what it is to move into this space; it only has to execute and while executing won't be easy, it is one hell of a lot easier than fundamentally changing what you are.


But, do remember, in all cases, the entrenched vendor always has the edge in any fight and Microsoft could still respond effectively. Google is also growing incredibly fast, which often leads to major mistakes in staffing and governance, and costs are starting to look a bit out of control. So Google winning is certainly not a sure thing, but it has the best chance of any vendor since Netscape to change the desktop. And, if you think about it, Google wouldn't have this chance if Netscape hadn't come first.


One final thought: If Google wins and the desktop OS is trivialized, the cheapest desktop wins and standardization isn't important. Linux wouldn't have to stop being Linux, making it the big winner. Apple, because it carries both hardware and software cost, probably stops being a PC company, and while Microsoft could remain the dominant OS supplier, that dominance probably won't matter.


It will take three to 10 years for this all to develop but if anyone thought things were about to get boring, think again.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 18, 2007 1:50 PM raoul latif raoul latif  says:
>>>I was only in because it was clear there was copied code and a lot of work being done to cover that up. Had it been vetted in the first place I probably would have never gotten involved in the first place.>>>What are you referring to ? who copied what from where? who covered it up and how? What about the claims of millions of lines of literal copying?>>>>>I think a more focused team would have been able to win this for SCO>>>>BLAH? who was not focussed? SCO or BSF? HOw would extra focus change the written language of the contract?>>>the ex-Novell CEO testified on SCOs side and it was clear they thought they owned the IP.>>>>you mean the guy with load of CALDERA/SCO shares? Jee whiz what possible reason could he have to lie?How do you explain the testimony from the attorney who drafted the contract and the APA? Try a little better than SCO, you know testimony from a friend who heard the attorney say to him over beers that he was not involved with novell-SCO transaction (that is the original SCO for you not caldera)Also, why on earth does caldera claim they paid $100 million, when infact they paid only $30 million to SCO?Buy yourself some self respect and address each point I have raised.raoul Reply

Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.




Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.

Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.