Although much of the speculation about new product announcements at the upcoming Macworld Conference & Expo centers around video iPods, a possible Apple mobile phone and iTV, business people have their own product wish lists.
ThinkSecret.com, one of several Apple rumour Web sites, reported Friday that it anticipates the launch of iWorks '07 at Macworld will be "one of the company's more significant product launches of the year." The iWorks business applications suite, for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations, is Apple's alternative to Microsoft Corp.'s Office 2007.
Improvements to iWorks '07 over iWorks '06 may include a new spreadsheet application and other changes to make it easier to import and export Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, ThinkSecret reports.
But a more fundamental change to Apple's place in the enterprise market is its conversion from the PowerPC to the Intel processor platform.
Chief information officers proposing a move to the Mac need to make an easy-to-understand business case to the chief financial officer or chief executive officer, said Schoun Regan, chief executive officer (CEO) of ITInstruction.com, an information technology training company specializing in Macs.
"I think the word 'Intel' carries a lot of weight," said Regan, who also is chairman of the MacIT Conference that runs concurrently with Macworld Monday through Thursday in San Francisco.
All Apple computers now ship with Intel processors, but they are backwards compatible with Mac applications designed for the PowerPC platform.
"It's incredible for a company as large as Apple, in just one year, to make that transition with very few hiccups," Regan said.
Some business customers whose IT infrastructure is primarily Intel-powered machines running Windows are investing in their first Intel-based Macs, "to see what they can do," he said.
But other observers think wider adoption of Macs in the business environment is a tall order.
"There's a little bit of a mind shift involved to go to a different platform," said Bill Kish, CEO of Coyote PointSystems, a provider of applications traffic management technology on computer networks. He is another presenter at the MacIT Conference.
Still, Kish anticipates more business interest in Apple to come from the expected introduction this spring of Leopard Server, the server operating system adjunct to the Mac OS X 10.5 upgrade. Leopard Server is targeted at small businesses, offering simplified system management tools for small workgroups.
Those developments aside, however, Apple will remain a niche player in the enterprise by choice, said Mark Margevicius, an analyst with Gartner.
"Apple really hasn't positioned its technology to go after the enterprise market," said Margevicius. "I keep asking them 'What's stopping you?' and they say, 'That's something we're not targeting now.'"
Apple remains focused in a few vertical markets including publishing, graphic design and digital animation moviemaking, he said, but expanding beyond that isn't part of its plan.
Competing against Hewlett-Packard, Dell or Sun Microsystems for a large enterprise contract requires a longer sales cycle than selling to a consumer or small business and usually requires steep discounting for volume sales, Margevicius said, which is not something Apple is interested in doing.