One of the biggest stories of last year was the continuing resurgence of Apple as a music and media company. The wild popularity of the iPod has been one of the most remarkable successes in recent times.
As a new year arrives, and with the start of the annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco, I'd like to remind everyone that Apple still has a story to tell in the arena where it first made its mark - computers.
’Major enterprise gains for Apple in 2005;
For IT, Apple has always been a tough buy. The company has made too little serious effort to sell into enterprises, even when it could have made a strong case. Yet the case is actually stronger than ever in some respects. It's so strong, in fact, that I'll wager we see several major enterprise wins for the Mac in 2005.
For what Apple calls "creative professionals," such as people in advertising and media, the Mac is still the machine of choice. It's also a solid consumer model, especially for people who are into digital photography, video or music.
Security issues favour Apple
Apple could expand its enterprise sales. One key reason is security. Despite some strong if belated effort on the part of Microsoft to fix its leaky flagship, Windows is still a security nightmare. Windows and other major Microsoft applications, notably Outlook and Internet Explorer, remain plagued by viruses, worms, spyware and other malware, and it's a constant battle just to keep up with the latest patches.
Mac OS X isn't immune, to be sure. Perhaps its low market share has prevented malware authors from plying their nasty trade on the system. But I can't remember the last time a Mac virus or worm caused any serious damage, and so far, at least, spyware is almost totally missing. And the base of OS X, the BSD variant of Unix, is widely recognized for its solidity.
Moreover, the Mac desktop is more than adequate for most tasks these days. One reason is that most of us do just a few things with our computers, with the browser, email, word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications covering many corporate duties. And Microsoft Office is available on the Mac, after all.
Sure, for many enterprises, the Mac won't be useful, due to platform-specific internal applications. This is what holds back not only the Mac but Linux desktop deployment, too.
Hey Windows, get out of the way
Apple makes its strongest enterprise case on a higher level, with its Xserve G5 servers and Xserve RAID storage systems. Both are powerful, relatively affordable and - as you'd expect from Apple - easy to administer. (It's puzzling, however, that Apple let WebObjects, the system for developing server-side Web applications, languish in the marketplace.)
For now, though, small businesses are Apple's best nonconsumer market. Meanwhile, the open-source community continues to improve Linux's desktop capabilities. Linux will probably never match Apple's ease of use and elegance, but as it becomes good enough for general use, Apple's best window of opportunity for enterprise sales will likely be narrowing.
For me, using a Mac is a practical thing. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: My Windows computer tends to get in my way when I use it. My Mac tends to get out of the way. That's a huge difference.
Dan Gillmor, a writer based in Silicon Valley, is the author of ‘We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People’ (O'Reilly).