Looking back, 2006 has been a great year for Apple. Wall Street continues to be enamored with all things Apple, the company's laptop market share is up to 10 percent, and the media distribution business has changed forever -- with iTV arriving after the first of the year. Will Apple also partner with a mobile virtual network operator, or buy a cell carrier outright for the final push in its effort to broaden its reach?
I could go on about touch-screen video iPods, market share, new models, the completion of the Intel transition, the rumored cell phones and more. The only prediction I will make is my annual prognostication, which is that iChatAV will break out to more mainstream use this coming year, and that Apple will embed it in a 3G cell phone. IChatAV (or, as I see it, iSpeakwalkandtalk) will be the killer app for mobile operators seeking to increase average revenues per user via data services.
Having gotten that bit of speculation out of the way, I want to focus on something concrete. I think the biggest news for Apple in 2007 will be Microsoft Vista. Really. More to the point, in managing the risk of migration to Vista, I think the argument can be made that migrating to Mac OS X as a primary operating system is a good risk management strategy. Here's why:
If you buy new PCs and install Windows XP now, your new hardware might not work as expected when you finally do move to Vista. (Vista, released last month to enterprise customers and due in consumers' hands on Jan. 30, is currently unproven and -- given Microsoft's history -- will need at least one service pack and a year or more to iron out any kinks. It also requires a higher level of hardware for all of its high-end features to work.) Having bought those theoretical PCs, at some point in the not-too-distant future you will have to choose between running Windows XP or Vista on the desktop. And let's not forget that when moving to Vista, there may be some serious user training issues and compatibility concerns to work out -- all of which will likely affect corporate productivity.
By contrast, if you buy Apple hardware, you're also getting an operating system that has proved itself stable and -- although the underpinnings change with each release, and Mac OS X 10.5, or Leopard, is due out by spring -- the user interface is essentially the same. Yes, you may need to do some user retraining upfront, but that should be a quick, one-time affair, since OS X is generally much simpler to use than Windows XP or Vista, in my opinion. A Mac can integrate fully in a Windows domain structure, communicating with the Windows servers over SMB, respecting ACLS and interacting with Exchange. In other words, you buy one computer from Apple and have the option of running two, three or even more operating systems.
From what I've seen of the latest versions of Parallels, it will have the option to launch guest OS apps without having the user visually invoke the rest of the operating system GUI, while Crossover only invokes the necessary windows components using WINE. So, you could run Vista apps, XP apps and Mac OS X apps without a user ever knowing that they're working in three different operating systems. In moving to Mac OS X, an IT department has to train the end user in the use of only one GUI interface -- Apple's -- and can still run three or more operating systems as needed to support the applications they need to deploy. All of the operating systems can be managed using standard management tools. And having to back out of an upgrade to Windows won't force a company to grind to a halt during the process.
To sum up my thoughts about Apple in '07, now that it's using standard Intel hardware procurement costs are essentially the same -- and deployment and management costs are the same or lower than with comparable Windows-based systems. In migrating to Mac OS X and Apple hardware, a company can save on training costs and mitigate the risks involved in moving to Vista by eliminating the necessity of an all-or-nothing migration. An option like that should give any CIO, CTO, CFO or CEO something to seriously consider.
And that's how I see 2007 shaping up for Apple's place in the enterprise.
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