Macs vs. PCs

Lack of business applications doomed Macs in the enterprise.

Apple’s Macs might have been innovative but they didn’t win over business customers because of a lack of applications. That’s where the IBM PC stood strong.

Macs belong in design firms, art departments, schools and the ilk, but never in enterprise data centers; PCs belong in the corporate enterprise. Enough said? No, probably not, especially if you talk to those who use Macs. When the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, Apple introduced the concept of a graphical user interface. The IBM PC, which debuted in 1981, used an interface more familiar to users of the time – one based on ASCII text.

At Mac’s introduction during the 1984 SuperBowl, a Ridley Scott-inspired character threw a hammer at the screen of an IBM text-based computer in an attempt to inspire legions of people to switch from PCs to what Apple perceived as a more user-friendly Mac. 

After the drama of its introduction, sales of the $2,500 Macintosh eked in. By September 1985, some 20 months later, only 500,000 Macs had been sold.

Some said that Apple’s focus was on the wrong area – its Macintosh, which, shipped with MacWrite and MacPaint to show off its GUI, wasn’t a magnet for application developers. Applications for the Mac needed to be completely rewritten, and except for a handful of independent software vendors (ISV), application porting didn’t happen.

“When Apple brought in a Macintosh to show it to us, I asked: Where are the business applications such as VisiCalc and a database?” says Jim Bagley, formerly vice president of marketing for Radix in Salt Lake City. Creative types – advertising agencies and video professionals -- remained the low hanging fruit for Apple, inspired by programs such as PageMaker, PhotoShop and Macromedia’s Director and FreeHand, which first worked on the Mac.

The IBM PC on the other hand enticed ISVs – companies wrote business applications for it. One of the first was the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet in 1981. The program didn’t become available on early Macs until 1991.

By 2006, even Apple had thrown in the towel to compete with the PC – it adopted Intel CPUs and made computers that could run Windows.

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