If I was surprised in January to find Apple Computers favorably mentioned in the pages of Computerworld , imagine my shock last week to see a full-fledged feature article singing the praises of Apple's Xserve for corporate datacenters. Mark Hall states:
Yet despite significant efforts by Windows suppliers, Apple still remains a dominant player in vertical market segments such as publishing and digital media. And with the growing popularity of its low-cost Xserve Unix servers, Apple has an opportunity to compete head-to-head with industry leaders like Dell Inc. inside the data center for general-purpose applications such as e-mail and Web serving.
Hall mentions, of course, the open source Unix foundation of OSX and its overall security as attractions for businesses, but he also says that Apple competes well on cost: one Xserve model he cites costs almost half as much as a comparable Dell Wintel server. The article also quotes IT sources testifying to the greater ease of maintenance for Macs, allowing fewer techs to support more machines and to conduct faster upgrades than with their Windows boxes. Mac fans, of course, have been making these arguments for years every time the Windows community tries to write Apple off the map. Now that they are being repeated in a major industry organ, maybe we can save our voices a little.
On the flip side, cracks in the Microsoft empire seem to be appearing with increasing frequency. This week's Computerworld features a Special Report on the Future of IT, one segment of which, "The Vendor Scene: Giants in Jeopardy," focuses on the "serious threat" to Microsoft (and others) from "smaller more agile players." The article quotes Thornton May: "Microsoft is running out of rich, dumb customers.... If you are technologically smart, you can replicate 80% of the functionality of Microsoft Office essentially for free" (the CW folks liked this line so much the slapped it on the issue cover, too).
And in the same issue, Don Tennant's editorial takes pains to remind readers that, despite Microsoft's innovation mantra, Apple has frequently been ahead of them:
Long before Linux became a thorn in Microsoft's side, Apple was a full-fledged pain in the company's you-know-what.... Microsoft had to deal with the abhorrence of being perceived as a technology follower, playing catch-up to the operating-system strides that Apple was making.
I still doubt that any of the above will trigger a seismic shift in the tech landscape, with Microsoft supplanted by Apple or any other contender as king of the mountain. But as little as a few years ago, seeing any of the opinions above in a mainstream publication would have been unthinkable. Like a playground bully, Microsoft has been able to push people around because the company has been surrounded by an appearance of invulnerability. It only takes a small prick to pop such an illusion, and Microsoft has received quite a few pricks (many of them self-inflicted) over the past couple years. Oddly enough, Microsoft has finally proven their defense from the antitrust trial: there is competition, and Microsoft might not be winning it.