I'm old enough to remember the way it used to be in the 1990's when cozy black-and-white divisions between consumer and business users made sense when considering technology needs. Many then reflected that the division reflected the expectations of the jaded business leaders who ran things at that time – times change, read on...
In those days, some may recall, many highly succesful businesses were run by men and women who had come to computing late in their adult lives.
There was a time when computer skills weren't taught at school. In computing's early years, acquiring such knowledge was the remit of after-school "computer clubs" and late night sessions with an Amiga at your mate's house.
Many business users missed learning these skills in their early years. They only began to deploy technology in their enterprises when they simply couldn't ignore it anymore.
This class of buyer – people who didn't really have a clue – found themselves standardising on a platform that was sold to them creatively by those nice men and women in suits who seemed to offer them what they wanted.
Those suited technology sales teams came from Microsoft. They were promoting killer applications (for the day) such as spreadsheets and document creation.
They were also able to offer potential customers a choice of vendors from which they could buy the computers to run that Windows software on.
Dyed-in-the-wool business types at that time may not have fully grasped what computers were all about, but they had a pretty good understanding that you get a better deal if you have companies competing to offer their products to you.
Alternative systems such as those offered by Apple didn't offer this. Choosing a Mac meant abandoning established notions of good business practise. The notion of standardising on a system that was only supplied by one vendor would never make sense to a corporate user looking to secure the best possible deal.
Microsoft also offered users a level of complexity which attracted business types. They liked the fact that Windows PCs were task-focused, a little complicated to learn, systems that challenged, rather than helped, their workforce.
"After all," they reasoned, "if these systems are hard for our staff to get their head around, then that raises the notional value of our business."
Well, a DOJ investigation into illegal business practises and years of expensive tech support costs, widespread computer viruses and malware attacks have taken their toll.
The new generation of business users are a bit more sussed when it comes to choosing technology. They understand that standardising on one operating system can pose huge risks for a company's data and profitability.
And in our modern bottom-line-focused culture any decision which can minimise running costs (such as reducing the size of the technology support teams) means better financial performance and happier shareholders.
The fact that every primary school on the Isle of Man uses a Mac is interesting to any corporate decision maker.
The island's two-person tech support team looks after 3,900 Macs, 115 servers, 40 networks, and 300 wireless access points.
If you missed that I'll repeat it. The Isle of Man runs 4,000 computers across numerous locations and has just two people to support the lot. And the users of these machines are the most demanding and accident-prone that exist – they are children.
What would tech support costs like that do for the profits of any major company?
There's another shift I've been reflecting on. Modern business users are as gadget-obsessed as any consumer. They want devices which look nice, work well, and offer a combination of business-focused and lifestyle features.
This is because the way we do business has changed dramatically since Microsoft achieved desktop dominance in the nineties. At that time, you went to work between 9-5, and that was it. A division between business and consumer uses made sense because it reflected the division in your day.
Modern business is much more flexible – and also more demanding.
These days it's not about your desktop at work any more – it's about a flexible and mobile workforce.
The notion of offices is slowly disappearing. In future workers will be remote, mobile, and international. While this means people are getting more flexible about where and when they work, it also means users are more likely to work when they once would be enjoying leisure time.
In exchange for this, business users want their business devices to offer fun-friendly features as well as business-focused ones. The device needs to be as flexible as the lifestyle.
This means enterprise users aren't as focused on needing spreadsheets or Exchange mail access as they once were.
Sure – they need solutions which support their existing business technology investments (until they update them), but they need solutions that support the new working environment. Which now includes leisure time.
Future success in the enterprise market will go to developers of hardware, software and services who most understand these changing needs.
Subject to these considerations, I find myself asking if Exchange support is truly the be all and end all of success in the enterprise market any more?
I don't think it is.
As long as I can receive my email, and read documents of any type that have been exported in a universal format – PDF, for example, business should be fine.
As long as I can access my web-based business database using some kind of web browser in order to download and upload new information, business should be fine.
If I can engage in secure video chat (using iChat, for example), send text messages and access some kind of shared diary – and keep all the information from all the separate business users centralised in some way, my business should be fine.
Microsoft Exchange support matters? Does it really matter? Despite the huge user base for the fee-based service, business buyers are coming round to thinking their technology needs aren't about the software, but about the process that software's meant to serve.
The fact that Mac OS X is based on open standards, offers Unix support, and that Mac OS X Server ships with an unlimited client license at least makes it a platform worth considering when developing bespoke business applications.
Future success in business for technology vendors means understanding the process, ensuring wide, standards-based support.
(It may also be the case that future success in business technology purchasing also means ignoring the advice of existing tech support teams, as their employment may ultimately depend on sticking with Windows, but it could be seen as churlish mentioning that).
Hardware and software solutions need to be based on standards in order that corporate technology teams can create and deploy their own bespoke applications developed internally to answer specific business needs.
Such systems must be accessible on as wide a range of devices as possible, if they are going to match the emerging convergence between workers and their private-and-business-converged lifestyles.
The question isn't whether the iPhone will be a success in business without Exchange support, but whether Exchange is matching the process it is designed for.
Given that Apple's iPhone is a closed system in itself, it's ironic that predictions of its enterprise success seem to be based on whether it offers support for another closed system.
Presumably, the question then is whether today's modern business professionals want closed systems at all?
Let's wait and see, shall we?