The Mac Mini is a Trojan horse leading straight into the heart of Microsoft's corporate empire. that's the conclusion of Jeffrey S. Young, co-author of iCon, the recent Steve Jobs biography. Is this view justifiable? Techworld spoke to Young about his view of Apple's iconic CEO, Steve Jobs, his technology choices and why Apple is going after the corporate market.
Young saw Apple's future as being in the enterprise. "Xserve and XRAID are clear moves into the corporate market", he said. "Attention has been diverted from this by the consumer play (iTunes, iPod). Fundamentally Steve is after Microsoft. He needs to take him down."
Young makes much of Jobs' genius in understanding the consumer market in iCon. He also says Apple woefully misjudged the corporate market, where Microsoft excels, because of Jobs' technology and strategy choices.
Young reckons that "Apple has had a real job figuring out how to sell to the corporate market. It's shot itself in the foot by irritating its resellers with the Apple Store. If it could strike a relationship with Dell..."
Not entirely coincidentally, Dell has just stated that it would sell MacOS systems should Apple decide to license MacOS for use on non-Apple hardware.
Young is happy to swim against the tide, agreeing that corporate PC buyers want PCs to do a job. "Absolutely right", he said. "A PC has to do the job and be cheap. That may be changing though. Macs have greater ease of use, and that means lower costs with a better user experience."
He even sees the Mac Mini, a slimmed down Mac base unit that can use an existing PC's screen, keyboard, mouse and printer, as a corporate machine. "It's an impressive way to migrate people to the Mac platform, an elegant and simple product", he reckons, slewing over the obvious problems associated with a huge user base, a bedrock of established, existing applications and migration issues, retraining issues associated with a different user interface
"No. It's not going to happen -- now. But a year, 18 months from now with Intel processors then it'll run Windows apps. That's the Trojan horse for Apple. You can migrate Windows apps to the Mac Mini then. That's where they're going. If you give the corporate guys a platform that plays to both Windows and the MacOS then that's a different question. That's why this thing is so important. Microsoft can't run MacOS and Windows. That's enormously important to understand."
With an Intel-based Mac Mini, Young's point is that desktop users could gain MacOS ease of use and style while still running traditional Windows applications. It's an attractive story but begs the question of whether an Intel Mac Mini would plug-and-play in the Windows PC world. Would device drivers, for example, transfer and run straight away in a Windows environment on the Mac Mini?
Somehow we think not: there would be problems.
Young is seeing an obsessed Steve Jobs bent on proving he's better than Bill Gates. He also sees classic Jobs manipulation and tactical string-pulling at work here. "It's absolutely Steve Jobs work. He wants to be Bill Gates. He wants to take Bill Gates on and show him who's the boss."
Channel issues arise too, as Apple sells direct and doesn't have an established corporate sales channel. Young doesn't see that as a problem either. "Why do you think Jobs is doing the Intel thing? He wants Dell to sell his computers. That's the game."
Young agrees that Apple has a propensity for giving users and shareholders alike a rough ride, but sees it as a strength. "If you're looking historically the smart move is that Apple will crash. In the short-term this could be right. The Intel announcement could stop the juggernaut. But I think they'll come out again, and right in Microsoft's cockpit."
Young gives the impression of seeing a conspiracy at work, one that helps Apple slay the Redmond dragon, and seizes on likely events and situations to support it. So five minutes later maybe it won't be Dell after all.
"I think it's HP will be the partner for Apple in the corporate market. In my opinion that's the way it's going to play out."
With de-Fiorina-isation going on at HP -- CEO Mark Hurd has just reversed the PC/printer division amalgamation -- anything is possible. The idea that HP could take on an Intel-based Mac Mini to help re-invigorate its PC division sales has a strong superficial attraction.
Corporate users and buyers though, surely don't just want the Mac's ease of use. They need to be certain it's bullet-proof with regard to Windows applications, device drivers and everything concerned with an operating system migration at a desktop level. It's not just having Intel kit, not just being able to run Windows' apps -- which we don't actually know whether or not it will -- and not just having an sales channel through Dell or HP. It's not even about a lack of services arm to help.
Buyers have to be convinced a Mac Mini will bring significant benefits, like good cost-savings. There's also the small matter of profitability. TechWorld would guess that Microsoft has a great deal more leeway in cutting its software prices than Apple.
Still the book, iCon, is an entertaining read, even if it's not that great a thing to base your corporate desktop computing strategy on going forward.