Why Mac clones are good for business

To most, an iMac is a $600 Windows machine in a $1,200 package

The bankruptcy filing by Apple cloner Psystar is hardly a surprise. Rather, it is hard to imagine any sensible person wanting to take on Apple's legal department and US$29 billion bankroll. However, that doesn't mean business users don't need--and want--Apple clones.

One of the reasons for Apple's softness in the business market is its high prices and single source of supply. While Apple makes a strong case for lower cost of ownership, that is not what business customers see when they make PC purchases.

To most, an iMac is a $600 Windows machine in a $1,200 package. That isn't true, of course, but when Windows is what employees already know, what is the incentive to switch?

Now that it is based on Intel processors, Mac OS X has become a great business operating system. But to spread in the business world, it needs support and infrastructure Apple is unable to provide. (And seems to have little interest in providing.)

If Steve Jobs is blessed for returning and bringing Apple back from the nearly dead, then he also gets the blame for Apple's lack of interest in business customers. Jobs has had opportunities to invest in building Apple's small and medium business market share, but has refused. Sure, Apple released OS X Server, but the company's effort to position it in the enterprise has proven lackluster at best.

Apple's current server operating system is a great choice for small business, but Apple does not offer sensible low-end servers to run it on. The Mac mini is too small, the iMacs are user desktops, and the PowerMacs are much too expensive. So this very nice server OS lacks the hardware diversity it rightly deserves.

If anything, Apple comes off as anti-business, while still making the obligatory noises about supporting creative professionals and home-based workers.

During the years when Steve Jobs was away from Apple, a group of ex-Dell execs created a company called Power Computing, which briefly sold some very nice Macintosh clones. I owned a few of them and the company was successful in selling to businesses that wanted inexpensive Macs for employee desktops, as well as servers.

Immediately upon his return to Apple, Steve Jobs set about killing the cloner, and quickly succeeded. Cloners and control freaks don't mix very well.

It is hard to argue with success and Apple has certainly been successful. Macintosh market share has increased and the company has gobs of money in the bank. Apple has done this by becoming more of a consumer electronics business than a computer company.

Maybe Apple just doesn't care so much about computers anymore, except as peripherals for iPhones and iPods. But, if that's the case, perhaps it is a good reason to let cloners have a shot at building market share by creating business desktops and servers that companies will want--and can afford--to purchase.

When I imagine what Dell, HP, and Lenovo might be able to do with Mac OS for business, I see a real potential threat to Microsoft and a boon to small and medium businesses. However, I also know this is not going to happen until either Steve changes his mind or someone replaces him.

Even then, attracting new business customers is not such a slam-dunk that a case cannot be made against it. To Apple, the business market does not seem to be worth the investment in time, trouble, or dollars.

David Coursey tweets as dcoursey and can be reached via coursey.com/contact. This post was made on a Mac.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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