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How the enterprise came to Apple

Apple never seriously went after enterprise sales, but in the end, the enterprise came to Apple on the client side.

Over the years, Apple has taken aim at business computing a number of times. Its last such foray was in 2002 when it rolled out its Xserve rackmount server.

That move was partly precipitated by Apple's introduction of the BSD Unix-based OS X operating system, which adhered to far more standards, interoperated with other systems far better, and was just less unique than previous Apple operating systems. The move could also be seen as Apple trying to do something, anything, that would let it break out of its declining niche on the desktop.

Apple iPhone Apple

The Xserve still exists in a corner of Apple's Web site, but you wouldn't exactly call it a prominent part of Apple's product line. That's hardly surprising really. As I wrote at the time:

To really break through in the server arena and go beyond customers who already favor Apple would take a full-blown corporate commitment to expanding product horizons beyond the desktop, beyond cool consumer technology, and into the mundane-but-critical environment of the data center. So far, Apple has released a sweet product but hasn't demonstrated any substantial shift in server thinking and commitment.

To the degree that Apple ever seriously viewed the Xserve and other data center components as an important part of its future, that potential strategic thrust was largely mooted by another product line introduced by Apple the year before. On its second generation in 2002, the consumer products in that line were still widely viewed as overpriced and only of real interest to the Mac faithful. But that would change. I'm talking of course about the iPod.

So Apple effectively became a consumer electronics company. Even when it made its move into phones, features that were mostly of interest to businesses came slowly. For example, Exchange ActiveSync didn't come to the iPhone until version 2 of its operating system. Various security features required to connect to many corporate networks were similarly belated.

But, even though Apple remained mostly on the consumer side of the fence, that fence started to fall down. Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, among others, calls it the consumerization of IT. Whatever the name, it means that we're seeing something of a shift away from rigidly prescribed, IT-supplied client devices and towards an environment where many employees can choose what to use within a fairly broad set of parameters.

There are many reasons for this. The ubiquity of cell phones and even the widespread use of personal smartphones with data plans starts to make separate dedicated business devices seem a bit anachronistic for many situations. More and more corporate applications have Web front-ends that can be accessed from any securely-connected browser. The workforce is more mobile; employees don't just do business from a desktop system in the office. In short, for many people, there's a blurring of the personal and the professional that makes a clean separation of personal devices and professional ones difficult at best.

And this has played to Apple's advantage. That is makes consumer products is no longer a critical impediment to business sales when those buying client products are consumers.