IT to Apple: boot me up for A-grade support

With or without Windows support, Apple will sell many more machines and software to businesses

Apple Computer’s Boot Camp beta is pregnant with possibilities for IT. Some are good — very good, in fact. But it all comes down to how Apple will ultimately define its support of Windows.

Boot Camp is Apple’s official acknowledgment of what everyone already knew. A computer with an Intel chip begs to run Windows from time to time and place to place.

Yes, yes, Macintosh fans feign shock and horror at the thought. But the need is real, and Apple’s previous indifference to that need has put a stake through the heart of many a planned corporate purchase of Macs since the advent of Windows 3.11, the real Mac and DOS killer. Now, it seems, Apple is begrudgingly taking steps in Mac OS X, 10.5 “Leopard” to — dare I mention the word — support Windows by integrating Boot Camp with its next operating system release.

Support, and how Apple defines its personal commitment to Windows, are important, but not essential to the success of dual-boot Macs for IT. And, believe me, IT wants the dual-boot Mac to be real. To this day, IT managers are forced to make trade-offs because Windows applications often lack Mac versions. Until Boot Camp, Apple essentially said, “Tough noogies, IT”. Left on its own, IT had few choices. Third-party emulators always hurt application performance and added complexity and risk. Few went that route. Most just ripped out more Macs, or let Mac users fall into application-deprived ghettos, undermining IT’s reputation en route. From one perspective, Apple’s commitment to Windows support via Boot Camp can be seen as a barometer for its long-term interest in supporting IT.

As such, I see two likely scenarios for Apple’s “support” of Windows on its Macintosh systems.

First, all Apple does is develop and improve upon its Boot Camp software. It offers no official services to users of Windows on Macs and it will not offer Windows support through its Apple Care programme. Not an ideal path to take, but a likely first step for Apple. Still, if the company does commit to advancing the state of Boot Camp over the life of Mac OS X, that alone is good news for IT. That’s because managed service providers, value-added resellers and systems integrators will commit resources to support businesses that have dual-platform needs but single-PC budgets. Only now, the Mac is your PC that those third parties will support.

Another option — Apple can go even further and invest in its world-class customer service to include Windows support for business. If it does, well, IT is seriously in luck. The only customer-support organisations I’ve encountered in the past ten years better than Apple’s are those of Acura and American Express. (What is it about “A” companies?) This is not to say Apple’s support is foolproof. There are many of us fools out there, as any reader of Shark Tank will tell you. But when you must call any of these “A” companies, intelligent people answer the phone in a reasonable amount of time and solve your problem in a reasonable amount of time. It’s the kind of support your end users expect — professionally run IT.

A third, but unlikely, possibility is that Apple crams Boot Camp into Leopard and lets it atrophy, a forgotten module, while actively discouraging companies that want to buy Apple Care contracts and run dual-boot systems. Yes, I can imagine Apple treating Windows users that way, but not even Apple would give up this opportunity for mere pique.

Even if Apple goes the minimal first route of support, the company is destined to sell many more machines and software to businesses. If it ventures down the second path, the riches could even be greater for the company. No, it’s not Madonna and Bono on your iPod or even Disney at your beck and call, but it is money there for the taking.

Hall is Computerworld US editor at large. Contact him at mark_hall@computerworld.com

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