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Should Small Business Go Mac?

By Teri Robinson
Nov 7, 2002 4:00 AM PT

Apple has made it a priority to lure small businesses to the Mac OS platform, reasoning that those businesses will be willing to abandon Windows in favor of a network that is easier to maintain without tremendous IT resources.

Should Small Business Go Mac?

Granted, adopting an Apple solution is more costly initially, Al Gillen, director of infrastructure software research at IDC, told the E-Commerce Times. "Apple typically charges a premium because they feel customers are getting better technology," he noted.

But in the long run, higher up-front costs may be offset by lower network maintenance costs, particularly for a small business. After all, Apple is known for producing systems that require very little support and that are intuitive enough for even novice users to maintain.

Enterprise in Sight

Apple director of product marketing for consumer applications Peter Lowe confirmed to the E-Commerce Times that Apple is aiming many of its products and initiatives squarely at the enterprise. And Brian Croll, Apple's senior director of software for worldwide product marketing, told the E-Commerce Times that the company is confident it can score in that arena.

Toward that goal, Apple has in the last six months introduced the Xserve rack mount server, shipped the Jaguar operating system, made it easier for companies to set up networked printers, eased the process of synching desktops with wireless devices, and directly challenged Microsoft's .NET Web services platform with its own .Mac offering.

The company also is likely to throw its hat into the 64-bit chip arena. Such a move would make sense, Aberdeen Group director of semiconductors Russ Craig told the E-Commerce Times, particularly for Apple's user base in the publishing industry. "Having the 64-bit architecture might well speed up some of those graphic applications, which are extremely computing-intensive," he said.

Busy Year

Despite Apple's solid moves into the corporate environment, however, the company still must convince buyers that it can play hardball in the enterprise and be a formidable challenger to other proven operating systems, including Windows.

Apple has made some positive steps in that direction. Jaguar -- version 10.2 of OS X -- has flown off shelves, and the company's relationship with Microsoft, albeit tenuous, has ensured greater interoperability between the two platforms, making it easier for companies to switch operating systems without losing their existing investment in applications.

Indeed, the company's strategy has been to create a streamlined software environment that is easy not only for users, but also for developers. For instance, the Xserve hardware configuration is spelled out, leaving little or no room for hardware problems to arise.

The machine features dual 1 GHz PowerPC G4 processors, each with 2 MB of double data rate (DDR) L3 cache, and it is the first 1U server to use DDR SDRAM memory with up to 2 GB capacity. It also offers best-in-class storage, with up to 480 GB on four hot-pluggable ATA/100 hard drives, as well as best-in-class networking with standard dual Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Another big plus is that instead of being priced at a per-user fee, the Xserve comes with an unlimited client license.

High Marks

Apple has drawn high marks from analysts like the Yankee Group's Laura Didio, who recently told the E-Commerce Times that the company achieved true innovation with its Jaguar operating system.

What is more, the company's Rendezvous offering helps devices that have IP (Internet Protocol) addresses recognize each other and create instant networks. Rendezvous supports Ethernet, AirPort 802.11, Bluetooth, Firewire and USB (universal serial bus) standards, and it uses IP for transmission. It will also take the sting out of networking printers, because it requires no configuration at all.

Users Fed Up

There is some indication that Apple has an opportunity to steal some of Microsoft's thunder by gaining ground in the small business marketplace. Microsoft has turned off a lot of companies with its strong-arm techniques, inflexibility and befuddling and costly licensing structure.

Microsoft's new licensing structure calls for businesses to pay regular installments in exchange for the ability to upgrade applications at any given time, versus the traditional one-time flat fee with optional upgrades after that.

The plan boosts the overall price for many companies and has upset some Microsoft customers. An IDC survey found that as many as 38 percent of respondents had investigated alternatives to Windows, including Linux and Mac.

"What customers have told me is that they're looking at alternatives," Gillen said. But virtually no one, he added, feels there is currently a viable alternative to the Windows desktop for their infrastructure.

It is up to Apple to convince them otherwise.

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