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Thursday
Aug062009

Why the Term “Enterprise Mac” is a Joke

Before I begin, I’d like to make this disclaimer: I LOVE MY MACS!
That being said, there are some very good reasons why Apple has a long way to go before being considered a serious player in the enterprise market. I’ve worked for three Fortune 500 companies over the past 25 years as a software developer, sysadmin and IT manager. Over that span I’ve witnessed the move from mainframes to minis to the client/server environment that’s dominant today. While most CIOs and IT directors would love the usability and security of OS X, several things need to change before Macs are seriously considered for widespread enterprise use.

Apple doesn’t offer suitable enterprise desktop hardware. The same gaping hole in Apple’s product line-up that spawns companies like Psystar is the type of product most IT professionals look for when purchasing desktop hardware. They want a serviceable, small to medium sized computer with “middle of the road” specifications. The only user serviceable machine Apple makes is the Mac Pro. Its’ $2500 starting price is enough to buy three Dell or HP desktops with adequate specs. Before you fanboys start shaking your fist, I know the Mac Pro is a lot more machine, but IT managers don’t make those comparisons. They just want a new machine to fit their specification and they need the ability to replace parts themselves when necessary. That requirement eliminates the Mac Mini and iMac. While both can be taken apart when necessary, it requires a skill set not usually found at most businesses and (even if an IT department had the skills) the procedure to replace parts on either machine takes entirely too long. If Apple were truly serious about the enterprise market they would produce a desktop machine with a tool-less chassis and iMac-like specs.

OS X and Mac apps need more compliance with industry standards. Apple is taking a big step forward with their upcoming release of OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). MS Exchange support has been one of the tallest speedbumps in the road to enterprise acceptance of Macs. It remains to be seen just how well Apple’s Exchange integration performs, but assuming it works as advertised, a major show stopper for thousands of IT departments will disappear. I’m glad Apple finally gave in on this one. Another truth in the enterprise world: MS Office rules. Office 08 for Mac is 80% there in terms of compatibility, but until VBA is supported (Microsoft’s fault) untold millions of “home grown” business applications won’t run on a Mac. It is a bit disingenuous for Microsoft to claim cross platform compatibility.

No Mac versions of many software titles. There are a multitude of business-centric applications for which no Mac version exists or the Mac version is sorely lacking in features and functionality. Intuit’s Quick Books instantly comes to mind. This is a huge player in the small business market and one I have personal experience with. I migrated Quickbooks ’09 Pro from Windows to Mac about six months ago and I’m still finding missing features on the Mac version. These aren’t trivial differences either, there are key features for expense tracking that are completely missing from the Mac version as well as any useable form of payroll integration. Keeping my business books on a Mac is something I’m doing out of sheer stubbornness and probably would not be repeated by most small business owners. Many other common business systems (Older versions of SAP, Novell, etc) don’t directly support OS X and third-party solutions are spotty at best.

You can’t dock a MacBook Pro. The percentage of portable computers in business is growing rapidly. It’s been my experience it normally runs about 20%, but as laptops get cheaper and more powerful they are becoming more suitable for a bigger slice of the employee pie. In all my years as an IT manager I never once bought a laptop computer without a docking station. Users have come to expect them and IT departments don’t want the hassle of dealing with four or five different connections to each laptop being connected and disconnected every day. This isn’t a huge point of contention, but in a fictitious business world where Macs are dominant, portable computers will still be docked.

But the real reason for so few Macs in the enterprise:

APPLE COULDN'T CARE LESS! Even if OS X and Mac applications are suitable for a particular business, no self respecting IT manager would ever buy machines for wide distribution from Psystar and they probably wouldn’t buy a bunch of iMacs either, but for a very different set of reasons. Psystar’s stability is dubious and iMacs are too difficult to service (you either ship it to a service center or go to a Genius at the mall). I would love to replace every PC at my worksite with a Mac but unless Apple decides it really wants to compete in the enterprise market they will remain a small player. Last quarter results indicate Apple’s revenues are up and they own the $1000 + computer market. Dell and HP would both trade spots with Apple in a nanosecond if they could. Obviously, the better business model was crafted in Cupertino.

Monday
Jul272009

Being the “Computer Guy”, a Mixed Bag

Do you ever wonder why us geeks tend to hang out together almost exclusively? Aside from the obvious “common interests” angle, I think it’s a simple defense mechanism. I’ve been in the tech business for over twenty years and I know lots of folks who work in the field. We tend to socialize not because we are the only ones who understand what each other is saying, but also to avoid the inevitable help desk type situations we find ourselves in almost every time we associate with “lay persons”. It seems the very profession we love type casts us into a caricature of someone that can’t do anything else.
Imagine yourself at a neighborhood barbecue or some other casual social gathering. Now imagine you are an advertising account manager. How many questions do you think your neighbors would ask you about the new billboards you’re designing? Any? Now put yourself in an IT professional’s shoes at the same gathering. Can you guess what happens? We geeks can’t get the first sip of beer to our lips without someone hitting us up about some problem they’re having with their e-mail or why their PC runs so slowly. Personally, I know I’m in trouble when the host asks me, “Have you got a minute?” The next thing I know, I’m in front of their screwed-up computer trying to figure out how their teenager managed to delete his user account. I don’t want to tell him that his kid was trying to cover his porn surfing tracks, so I just tell him he got a virus. The point is, it didn’t take “a minute”, I’ve been at it for an hour while everyone else is enjoying the party! I want to be neighborly, but working on somebody’s messed up BestBuy bargain isn’t my idea of a good time.
Why do people think there is nothing on earth we’d rather do than sit in front of their POS PC? Does this happen to all professionals? Somehow I can’t imagine my gynecologist neighbor performing a pelvic exam on the host’s wife in the back bedroom or the general contractor up on the roof replacing shingles. Is there something about us geeks that promotes this attitude among civilians? I often wear a t-shirt that says, “No, I will not fix your computer” and it’s surprising how many people it pisses off. When you take computer repair off the table as a conversation topic some people have nothing at all to say to me. That’s probably for the best.
Since moving to the Mac a couple of years ago, I now have an out. When someone relays their PC woes I have a three word answer, “Get a Mac.” That usually doesn’t work, but it feels good. If all my social acquaintances did own Macs, I’d hardly ever be bothered at parties, but that’s a double-edged sword. If Macs took over the world, there would be a lot less work for guys in my line of business.

Monday
Jul202009

Apple Store Infrastructure: All Windows!

I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to, but when I do I like to visit Harley dealers and Apple stores. I visit Harley dealers to buy t-shirts with the local dealer’s logo and the Apple store, well, because it’s an Apple store. Sometimes I get by with just looking, but more often I leave the store with a bag. I never paid much attention to the handheld devices all Apple store employees use to ring me up, until recently.
Last week, I bought a new, white 32 GB iPhone 3GS and a few accessories to go with it. (I got the phone at the new-customer rate so I’d like to thank everyone that bitched so loudly to Apple & AT&T. That’s a subject for later.) The purchase process went very smoothly until the handheld device the Apple store employee was using went bezerk and we had to start the whole process from the beginning. As I watched the frustrated salesperson rebooting his handheld I made a discovery.
The handheld POS (Point Of Sale) device was running Windows Mobile 5! I saw the boot-up splash screen. Am I late to this party? Why am I just now discovering this? I guess I never paid much attention to the thing before. The incident prompted me to ask the salesperson a few questions like, “Is the whole store’s POS and inventory running on Windows?” He answered in the affirmative. I asked him, “Whatever happened to There’s an app for that ?” He just stared back, obviously embarrassed.
After a little research, I discovered all US Apple stores use the same POS system and it all runs on Windows. I guess Apple chose pragmatism over pride in this case. I’m certain that somewhere within the Cupertino headquarters’ bounds someone made the decision to standardize all Apple retail stores on one system and then chose the system. I would like to hear tape of that meeting! I think this does point to a bigger issue though.
If there were a vendor that offered an OS X-based POS solution to fit Apple’s criteria, surely they would have been selected over the WinMo solution currently in place. That leads me to conclude: 1) There is no suitable solution running on OS X. or 2) The OS X offering is price-prohibitive. Either way, Apple chose Windows and that sucks.
But what the hell do I know?

 

Saturday
Jul182009

Apple Market Share: Just Right!

Depending on who you believe, the latest numbers from Gartner and IDC have Apple’s market share somewhere around 8%. While Gartner says Apple’s slice of the personal computing pie is 8.7% with moderate growth, IDC has them at 7.6% after a slight decline. Either way, I’m perfectly pleased with Apple’s position. I think Cupertino has found a real “sweet spot” as far as Mac fans are concerned. They seem to be content with their business plan of allowing OS X to run on Apple computers only while maintaining the highest standards for their hardware. If Dell and HP are Ford and Chevy, Apple is Acura or BMW. Not outrageously so, but a definite notch above in design and build quality. Who can argue with their strategy, Apple’s numbers speak for themselves. It’s unrealistic to think BMW could outsell Ford in the US. Likewise, Apple will never put up Dell or HP unit numbers because attempting to do so would mean lowering their standards to get into low-end markets or making other compromises to accommodate businesses.
Apple has enough market share to make them a solid, profitable company, but not enough to entice the “black hats” to begin paying serious attention to the platform. We OS X users are spoiled by no need for anti-virus and other security software clogging up our computers. We know there are vulnerabilities to be exploited. That gets proven over and over again by various security firms and “white hat” hacking competitions. Fortunately, Windows has been the low-hanging fruit for the real nasties to pick. It comes down to business basics that any undergrad could figure out. With less than 10% market share, the cost/benefit ratio for constructing and distributing a useful and prolific OS X exploit is simply too high. How do I know this? Because it hasn’t happened yet. Believe me, the creeps that create bot nets don’t avoid OS X out of favoritism or loyalty. Windows is just a fatter target.
I, for one, would like to enjoy flying under the bad guys’ radar for as long as possible. I also want Apple to thrive and grow for all the obvious reasons. (In the interest of full disclosure: I own Apple stock.) I just don’t want them to grow too fast or get too big, especially with Mr. Jobs’ future contribution in question.
I’m not sure where the market share tipping point is that would motivate the bad guys to train their sights on us, I’m just glad we’re not there yet. Most PC users have never known the pleasure of using an unencumbered OS. I hope it stays that way.
But what the hell do I know?

Saturday
Jul112009

What the Hell Does a Texan Know?

In September of 2007 I bought my first Mac.  After owning an iPod for 8 months I succumbed to its "halo" effect and ordered a 17" MacBook Pro.  After nearly twenty years as a software developer and IT manager dealing almost exclusively with Windows machines I discovered the wonderful world of Apple and OS X.  I now own three Macs and have converted all my daughters.  I've bought five Macs, two iPod Touches and an iPhone 3G in less than two years.  We have two PCs left in our house, one for my consulting work and another family machine containing all our finances and taxes that I'm too lazy to convert.

I may never be an OS X aficionado, at least not to the degree I am on the Windows side, but I (like most Texans I know) don't do anything half-assed and I've made it a point to be above fluent in the language of Cupertino.  In the past 20 months I've watched every instructional video and listened to or watched every podcast I could find pertaining to Apple.  I've read books on the history of Apple and OS X, learned to use AppleScript and Automator and studied the structure of Free BSD and the Mach kernel (the underpinnings of OS X).  I'm a paid member of the Apple Developer Connection and have written a few Objective C programs.  Nothing commercial yet, but I'm still plugging away.  I produce, announce and publish a weekly podcast for my church using my Mac(s) and I’ve put together a fairly nice home recording studio.

When I first began assimilating Apple-centric media, the podcast topics and questions were almost 100% fresh to me.  As I've grown with my Macs and other assorted Apple hardware, I find I'm learning much less from these same podcasts.  In fact, I often answer questions faster than the host(s) and somtimes disagree with their answers completely.  Either I'm becoming less ignorant or they are becoming more.  I doubt the latter.  Either way, my appetite for Apple news and how-tos hasn't diminished one bit.

MacTexan.com is a next logical step for me.  I want to try to give back some of the goodies the new media community has so graciously given (or sold to) me.  I like to think we Texans have a unique perspective on most topics and this Texan’s core competency happens to be technology.  We’re not all pickups and longhorns down here, Texas is also about NASA, Dell, HP and Texas Instruments to name a few.  Cali Lewis of GeekBrief.tv fame lives and operates her studio in Dallas, but beyond that Texas is underrepresented in the technorati. That’s why I’m throwing my hat into the ring.  That, and I’ve noticed I sometimes have a different take on things and often my contrarian view turns out to be correct.

Let’s put that to the test.  I’ll be experimenting with this Squarespace site, maybe recording a podcast or posting up some sound bites from AudioBoo.  I’ll go on record with my analysis and predictions to prove what a visionary (or fool) I am and explore the fantastic technology available to do all this fun stuff.  If anybody reads or listens to what I’m shoveling, it will be a bonus.  I’m in it mainly for the experience and fun.  Anyway, what the hell do I know?

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