Macs make rather nice graphics workstations but really aren't that much use for anything else. It's not because of a lack of capabilities of either hardware or OS software but more due to high prices and relatively low support from ISVs. Both are the result of low sales volumes and - fundamentally - a lack of competition. Such is conventional wisdom and who are we at Techworld to buck the trend?

Yet bucking the trend could be what Apple is about to do with the launch of a new server upgrade. What's more, rumours suggest that the company that's succeeded in breaking out of comfortable but extremely confining niche with the iPod - the product which made considerable contributions to the Cupertino company's bottom line in the last year - is about to make a move into the razor-thin margin territory of personal computing.

New headless Mac?
According to Mac specialist Web site thinksecret.com, Apple will "announce a bare bones, G4-based iMac without a display at Macworld Expo on January 11 that will retail for $499." That's today.

If true, it will be a Trojan horse for more profitable systems in future.

Sources who talked to thinksecret, which prides itself on leaching information out of Steve Jobs' organisation, reckon that the device will be aimed at iPod-savvy Windows users. Those who've used the software and like the way it feels will, according to a source within the factory, buy such a machine if the price were right.

Until now of course, it's not been right. A typical mid-spec iMac, for instance, retails at £999, and includes only a 17-inch display. That's some £300 more than a similarly specified PC would cost. Macs haven't even kept up with the targets Jobs himself has set. For example, he promised a 3GHz machine for mid-2004 but has yet to see the light of day; Apple's workstation range tops out at 2.5GHz.

From an enterprise perspective of course there are other issues, including support, relationships with existing suppliers, training and security - Apple has been notably slow to plug holes in its system software.

In the home of course, this matters less - if at all. And given the company's lack of penetration into mainstream enterprise markets, one former design head at Apple was even moved to suggest that "Apple should quit the mainstream PC market and concentrate instead on multimedia production and entertainment."

Embrace and extend
It looks like that's what Apple is doing. With the digital entertainment business still up for grabs, the media server piece is potentially the biggest win, since technically unsavvy consumers will like the combination of visual co-ordination and the one-stop shop. Sell them a server and the rest will follow. And Merrill Lynch analyst Steven Milunovich has hinted in recent weeks that he knows of plans to develop such a product.

And that could be what the latest Xserve G5 upgrade is in fact the basis for. It's fairly low-priced, has unlimited client licences and has enough power for a starter pack.

If Apple could solve the kinds of teething troubles that afflicted the G5, such as the excessive noise it made, the company could quickly find that its enterprise server products are in fact ending up in homes, homes other than those of the well-heeled, Apple zealots, and/or the graphically-oriented.

However, if Apple wants to embrace and extend into the home big-time, many would argue that it has to cut its high prices and open its systems to third parties.

Apple to emulate Sony?
Yet for 15 years, pundits have been arguing that Apple should follow this or similar advice. It's singularly failed to do so, and is still here. Even though its servers are unlikely to find homes in the near future anywhere other than in Apple-only organisations, Apple could in the longer term confound market analysts.

Take Sony as an example and say it's impossible.