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How much is that Apple in the Windows?

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Comment As everyone knows, I'm a great fan of Apple Computer.

In fact, while running the Texas internal consulting office at Schlumberger in 1984, I bought and evaluated one of the first Apple Macs and was blown away by its power and simplicity. Instead of buying my own Mac at that time, I bought Apple stock, the value of which quickly rose to pay for my own Mac. So armed, and with the passion of a zealot, I preached the Mac's advantage, spurring their adoption in Schlumberger and later Shell. In both companies, Mac adopters battled policy, and the machines invaded small corporate pockets like design and engineering, where they often remain today.

Then I moved to Costain as chief technology officer, which had fully adopted Windows. Poacher turned gamekeeper! My preaching gave way to economic and practical necessity - there was just no compelling (economic or otherwise) reason to disrupt Windows as the corporate standard - essentially a sensible decision and sound investment policy. This was especially the case as Apple had become marginalised. Not just in market share, but the technology itself. Years of in-company squabbling and management change had undermined the Mac's technology advantage - innovators at Apple were replaced by corporate wonks, and the once enjoyed leadership eroded as these same wonks sat on their hands.

By 1995, Windows had matched the original Mac OS features, and Windows PC prices were markedly lower than those of Apple's. When I joined Digital Equipment as the Services business CIO, I pushed the Microsoft message with almost the same passion as I did Apple's 1984 Mac. I quickly moved Digital's service business into beta programs of Exchange (Microsoft's email solution) and Windows 95, with such success that I appeared on stage at the Boston World Trade Centre launch. I counted my success at Digital in terms of displacement of its own email (All-In-One) systems, the penetration of Windows 95 in my part of the business, and the development of a Digital/Microsoft partnership, which my activities strongly influenced. I also got a kick out of the internal hate mail I received from the folks accusing me of technological heresy.

Fast forward to Wang where, as CIO and CTO, and still in the role of Defender of the Microsoft Faith, I noticed the emerging new Apple operating system - OS X. Sitting in a local computer shop, I had a repeat of my 1984 Apple Damascus moment. The elegance and simplicity of what OS X did was mindblowing. I bought an iBook and, with hundreds of thousands of others, rode with Apple to OS X's full realisation. And as Apple wove its capability with those of Windows, I started to use my Mac more and more for work. Strange, given that economic logic and practicality meant I still had to ride shotgun over a corporate Windows-only policy. But I owned the IT organisation, so got a pass.

Now, I advise companies on technology, and yesterday Apple just announced a capability to run Windows on its Intel based new computer models - one of which, being technology self indulgent, I have. So will I add this free Windows capability to my Mac Book Pro? No, because I no longer use anything that needs Windows as, over the years, Apple has done such a great job convincing most main software companies to successfully write their products for the OS X to take advantage of its cool features. Would I advise a wholesale corporate move to Apple - No again.

Few companies can fund a major technology switch, without a significant economic business case. And, truth be told, most corporate folks will continue to do just fine with Windows - hey, email, the typical Microsoft Office suite applications and the odd business system's really don't benefit from change. Even if they did a bit, people don't want change.

After 20 plus years of enforced technology firedrills they've become highly sceptical of technologists' promises of a better life, and rightly don't believe the endless theoretical business cases technologists dream up.

Those ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) battles that have raged since the late 1990s have left many of the folks who do the real work in companies, forever scarred. Talk about the thousand yard stare - visit an business accounting office after an implementation of SAP!

So what to do. Well, my advice would be to actually give people the choice. There are unlikely to be support issues, especially with Apple's long-term commitment to support dual Windows and Mac OS. And few extra cost issues. I think we are on the cusp of businesses allowing folks to buy and own their own business PCs and funding them through the expense system. The new Apple world is the perfect reason to accommodate this, and gradually take companies out of PC ownership. You own your own calculator and mobile phone - PC ownership is a natural evolution. And the timing is perfect, especially as Microsoft will be pushing a wholesale move to its much delayed and maligned Windows Vista. Just the thought of which makes me feel a thousand yard stare coming on! ®

About Cormac O'Reilly: Late sixties IT industry entrant with early developer gigs in London at Abbey National, Unilever & BOC. Senior IT oil field trash in the eighties and nineties; Schlumberger (Houston TX) and Shell (The Hague). Board IT big-wig at Costain (London) before CIO/CTO at Digital and Wang Global/ Getronics (Boston). Non-exec director at two flame-out dot.coms; now spending ill-gotten gains and being provocative in Newburyport, MA.

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