I’m a big fan of technology that makes users happy. As an administrator anything that keeps users satisfied and working productively means more time for me to make the environment even better for them. It’s a great positive feedback loop that builds on itself continually, leading to an environment that’s stable, cutting edge and just plain fun to use and administer. Of course the picture I’ve just painted is something of an IT administrator nirvana, a great dream that is rarely achieved even by those who have unlimited freedom with the budgets to match. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to achieve it however and I’ll be damned if I haven’t tried at every place I’ve ever worked at.
The one thing that always come up is “Why don’t we use Macs in the office? They’re so easy to use!”. Indeed my two month long soiree into the world of OSX and all things Mac showed that it was indeed an easy operating system to pick up and I could easily see why so many people use it as their home operating system. Hell at my current work place I can count several long time IT geeks who’ve switched their entire household over to solely Apple gear because it just works and as anyone who works in IT will tell you the last thing you want to be doing at home is fixing up PCs.
You’d then think that Macs would be quite prevalent in the modern workspace, what with their ease of use and popularity amongst the unwashed masses of users. Whilst their usage in the enterprise is growing considerably they’re still hovering just under 3% market share, or about the same amount of market share that Windows Phone 7 has in the smart phone space. That seems pretty low but it’s in line with world PC figures with Apple being somewhere in the realms of 5% or so. Still there’s a discrepancy there so the question still remains as to why Macs aren’t seen more often in the work place.
The answer is simple, Apple simply doesn’t care about the enterprise space.
I had my first experience with Apple’s enterprise offerings very early on in my career, way back when I used to work for the National Archives of Australia. As part of the Digital Preservation Project we had a small data centre that housed 2 similar yet completely different systems. They were designed in such a way that should a catastrophic virus wipe out the entire data store on one the replica on the other should be unaffected since it was built from completely different software and hardware. One of these systems utilized a few shelves of Apple’s Xserve RAID Array storage. In essence they were just a big lump of direct attached storage and for that purpose they worked quite well. That was until we tried to do anything with it.
Initially I just wanted to provision some of the storage that wasn’t being used. Whilst I was able to do some of the required actions through the web UI the unfortunate problem was that the advanced features required installing the Xserve tools on a Mac computer. Said computer also had to have a fibre channel card installed, something of a rarity to find in a desktop PC. It didn’t stop there either, we also tried to get Xsan installed (so it would be, you know, an actual SAN) only to find out that we’d need to buy yet more Apple hardware in order to be able to use it. I left long before I got too far down that rabbit hole and haven’t really touched Apple enterprise gear since.
You could write that off as a bad experience but Apple has continued to show that the enterprise market is simply not their concern. No less than 2 years after I last touched a Xserve RAID Array did Apple up and cancel production of them, instead offering up a rebadged solution from Promise. 2 years after that Apple then discontinued production of its Xserve servers and lined up their Mac Pros as a replacement. As any administrator will tell you the replacements are anything but and since most of their enterprise software hasn’t recieved a proper update in years (Xsan’s last major release was over 3 years ago) no one can say that Apple has the enterprise in mind.
It’s not just their enterprise level gear that’s failing in corporate environments. Whilst OSX is easy to use it’s an absolute nightmare to administer on anything larger than a dozen or so PCs as all of the management tools available don’t support it. Whilst they do integrate with Active Directory there’s a couple limitations that don’t exist for Windows PCs on the same infrastructure. There’s also the fact that OSX can’t be virtualized unless it runs on Apple hardware which kills it off as a virtualization candidate. You might think that’s a small nuisance but it means that you can’t do a virtual desktop solution using OSX (since you can’t buy the hardware at scale to make it worthwhile) and you can’t utilize any of your current investment in virtual infrastructure to run additional OSX servers.
If you still have any doubts that Apple is primarily a hardware company then I’m not sure what planet you’re on.
For what its worth Apple hasn’t been harmed by ignoring the enterprise as it’s consumer electronics business has more than made up for the losses that they’ve incurred. Still I often find users complaining about how their work computers can’t be more like their Macs at home, ignorant of the fact that Apple’s in the enterprise would be an absolutely atrocious experience. Indeed it’s looking to get worse as Apple looks to iPhoneizing their entire product range including, unfortunately, OSX. I doubt Apple will ever change direction on this which is a real shame as OSX is the only serious competitor to Micrsoft’s Windows.
Before I turn the tempreature up on this post from typical Australian barbeque to Tokamak burning plasma let me get this out of the way: this isn’t targetted at all fans of Apple or users of their products. There’s a good place to be had for the tech that they pump out and I’ve gladly recommended Apple products for people who desire functionality yet can’t/won’t deal with the nuances of other (possibly better) products available. More this is aimed at those who brandish themselves as tech savvy people who have devoted themselves to the church of Steve Jobs and all his wonderous gadgets. You people have no love for tech at all, and I’m going to tell you why.
Apple as a company prides itself on being an innovator and in some aspects that’s true. Their minimalistic design principals coupled with a dedication to user experience has produced some pretty innovative interfaces. OSX, whilst still being a relatively decent OS for those who, has contributed immensly to the world of open source (at it’s heart its a BSD variant) and is a good choice for the creative amongst us. From a technology point of view however Apple is far from an innovator and they are in fact scared to do anything that might sour their reputation for appearing to be revolutionary. Consequently their portfolio of work, whilst firmly rooted in good fundamentals, smacks of a company scared to be a real technological innovator.
To get my point you have to push past their big ticket items and look at the very few examples where Apple tried to innovate and failed. Take for instance their Apple Xserve line of products, which is squarely aimed at the enterprise. Now before you go off thinking I’ve just Googled some of their lesser known products to bad mouth I’ll have you know I administered a stack of their RAID arrays back when I was working for the National Archives of Australia. Apple got their foot in the door at a trade show that one of my colleagues attended and we bought 3 trays of disc. Unbeknowst to him they were really only good as large external hard drives since they had no intelligence in them whatsoever. To enable technology that was on par with the EMC array we had bought we would have to purchase at least 2 more Apple Xserves plus additional software. For a company that was supposed to be innovative they produced a solution that was kind to call a joke and we sent them on their way promptly.
That’s not the only product they’ve brought to fruition that they’ve decided to keep on the down low. Their Apple TV range, if you ask any of their executives, is still a hobby for Apple. As such you’d think they’d take risks in trying to develop new products for it but the Apple TV remains the same as it was 2 years ago. Even back then it was struggling to keep up with its competitors in terms of features only adding things in after they had been field tested by others. Any innovator would be the first to push a new feature to its users but Apple, even with its massive amount of resources, failed to provide even simple things for the AppleTV before its competitors.
I’d probably let this all slide if it weren’t for the latest round of diatribe that Jobs keeps spouting about the iPad and it being “magical“. Now I don’t feel so bad every time I refer to the Apple fanatics as a cult as really, who calls an overgrown iPod touch magical. It’s nothing of the sort and it’s just more indoctrination rhetoric from a man who is the physical manifestation of the term hipster(bloody hell even the wikipedia link is pretentious). It’s those kind of people who sit in extoll themselves as bastions of technological know how because they’ve chosen the superior device of Apple. I hate to break it to you kid but if you think anything from Apple is the be all and end all of technology you’ll be firmly stuck at least 5 years in the past whilst Apple tries to figure out how to implement something that came out 3 years ago (I mean seriously, how could you not put MMS in the iPhone until the middle of last year).
Now I’m not against you buying and enjoying Apple products, far from it. They have their place and I’ve gone on record saying they’ve made the best mobile phone I’ve had to date. However should you ever come and talk to me about how much you love tech and only ever cite Apple products I will promptly tear you a new one and burn your blue jeans and turtle neck in a bonfire topped with an effigey of the almight Jobs himself. Apple is not a technical innovator because if they were they would be taking massive risks with their brand and in all honesty, that’s the only thing they’ve got going for them. Apple without its marketing department would just be an over priced version of Dell.
Oh and if you’re looking for anyone to blame for this rant, check these idiots out. I think I vomited a little when I saw that site.