Is an iPod a day enough for Apple?

If our intelligence is even remotely correct, then the fortunes of Apple Computer Inc. should matter little to you.

That’s because Mac’s footprint on the corporate level is miniscule in comparison to Windows, Unix and even Linux. Often it’s lumped in with Unix or “other” on user-survey categories. Outside of its still sizeable stronghold in the areas of graphics/animation, production and layout, dedicated business users are few and far between.

If only Steve Jobs could find a way to host mission-critical apps on an iPod… Shipments of the MP3 player in Q4 of this year are up a whopping 500 per cent versus last year. That’s helped the company to list its biggest quarterly profit in almost 10 years — US$2.35 billion, up 37 per cent from the US$1.72 billion in revenue recorded during last year’s fourth quarter.

The iPod represents a marketing masterstroke. It’s sold as much on image as on capability, and tying it to a legal music download site at a time when all the music industry execs could think to do is measure the size of the bats they might use to beat their listeners with was also well done.

But what prospects, if any, exist for Apple as a PC maker in competition with the Wintel juggernaut on the enterprise playing field? Beneath the iPod buzz lays one surprising number: Apple managed to increase Macintosh shipments by six per cent in Q4, based on its notebooks. And when the company ships its latest server OS X version, code-named Tiger, analysts generally agree that it will have a platform as solid as any version of Unix currently available.

“Tiger is clearly enterprise-ready,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice-president and research director at Jupiter Research Inc., quoted in a story we ran earlier this year. “The challenge is getting folks in the IT department to overcome their Macintosh and Apple prejudices from days gone by.”

Those prejudices, if that’s what they really are, are come by honestly by many of today’s IT professionals. From poor marketing to the apparent abandoning of the company by Steve Jobs, as late as 1998 it appeared that Apple was destined to become a niche graphics software and PC maker for a dedicated but dwindling community of enthusiasts, a far cry from the company still renowned for airing the most influential TV ad of all time during the 1984 NFL Superbowl.

Today Jobs is back and Apple appears to have a cachet among the under-25 set other PC makers are sorely lacking. And the Mac OS is undoubtedly a secure one, if only because hackers have largely chosen to ignore it, concentrating instead on much higher-profile targets. If the iPod/iTunes tag-team lead to more consumer sales of Macs, might that change the perception of using them for business computing, if only on the desktop?

And since it appears a certain segment of the enterprise computing population is willing to consider Linux, why not the Mac as well? I’m skeptical that Apple could ever make a dent in the business PC world, but I’d like to know what you think.

Then again, our iPod-equipped children may have already decided this matter for us.

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