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Will there ever be a corporate Apple?

Apr 17, 20063 mins
AppleEnterprise Applications

What to make of the buzz over Windows on Intel-based Macs.

As regular readers know, I’m a fan of Apple computers and use them at home, on the road and at work. As anyone in the corporate world knows, I’m at best one of those exceptions that prove the rule that Microsoft owns the corporate desktop.

Since Apple’s announcement that it was adopting Intel processors, there has been a growing buzz among some pundits that Apple might be on the cusp of a major increase in its penetration of the corporate world. This buzz increased dramatically in volume with Apple’s announcement of a supported way to boot Windows on its Intel-based computers. But does this buzz make any sense?

I’ve been using Macintosh computers since about three months before they were announced in the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial, which has been credited with making the Super Bowl show something that even non-football fans want to watch. I got an early machine, because I was one of the Harvard representatives to the Apple University Consortium. For most of the next decade Apple had a significant presence in the corporate world but, because of many significant missteps by Apple coupled with almost-perfect execution by Microsoft (until the courts got in the way), that presence has shrunk to almost nothing.

Although I’ve been seeing a lot more Apple laptops on airplanes and at meetings – they are easy to spot with their luminous Apple logo – the percentages are still small. I expect to see a lot more glowing Apples, assuming the London court does not tell the company its logo – a monochromatic apple with a bite out of it – is too similar to that of Apple Corps and forces a change.

Now, however, I will not be able to tell if the user is running an Apple operating system or Windows. Apple’s Boot Camp allows an Intel-based Apple computer to run Windows natively and just as fast as a machine designed with only Windows in mind. This is a good move by Apple, but not the best move it could have made. Boot Camp means that a corporate user could buy the Apple hardware that many people consider some of the best in the industry yet run the corporate Windows-standard environment. But the Apple OS X environment will always be just a reboot away and thus easy to try out.

I’d rather virtualize than reboot. I’ve been using Virtual PC when I need to run a program that works only on Windows. It creates a window in which Windows runs, and files can be copied back and forth. Virtual PC is quite slow, because it emulates the x86 processor; the same function on an Intel-based Apple computer should run at full speed. Other companies have announced virtualization software for the Apple machines, including Parallels and EMC’s VMware.

The ideal, but not easy, solution is to work as Apple Classic does: let individual applications run transparently in a local Windows environment if there is no Mac version with OS X starting up a virtual Windows environment when the user clicks on the application. With this support of the corporate Windows standard, companies could let users choose Macs. But do not hold your breath. Far too many corporate IT groups are focused on doing their job efficiently, not making things good for their users. Thus, I’m resigned to seeing Apple as an also-ran in the corporate world.

Disclaimer: Harvard is one of those corporations where Apples are run by exception rather than rule, but the above prediction was not checked with the Harvard IT folks, so it is mine alone.