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On Being A 1st-Class Citizen: Maybe Apple Shouldn't Buy DAVE & VirtualPC After All

On Being A 1st-Class Citizen: Maybe Apple Shouldn't Buy DAVE & VirtualPC After All

by , 7:00 AM EDT, July 27th, 2001

Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.

Barry LePatner

The title may need some explaining.

In my "day job," I'm an IS supervisor. In addition to my management duties, I deal a lot with our customers  or, rather, our customers' IT people. By "deal," I mean that I spend lots of time working with our customers, resolving connectivity issues between our customers' databases and my company's hardware and software. You see, we provide technology solutions to our customers. One of my duties is to function as an integration specialist. We provide our customers with PCs pre-installed with our proprietary software, which is Access-database derived.

The tricky part of my job is to get their databases to talk to our database. In the world of Windows, it is relatively easy with Microsoft's ODBC.

But, what if the customers are an all-Mac shop, which is increasingly true for small businesses nowadays? It isn't always a pretty, plug-and-play game at that point. Couple this with the fact that we don't have a Mac version of our software (more on that later), and you see that we alienate our customers right of the box, lame pun intended.

This has been a frustrating scenario, since I'm the lone Machead in our company (in Minnesota anyway  we're a pretty large, international company). Anyway, my initial consultation usually ends with my recommendation for the customers to purchase Thursby Software's excellent DAVE software or Connectix's DoubleTalk so that their Macs can talk to our company-provided PC; or, if they decide to do so, I recommend they take our PC and install on it PC MacLAN, which basically allows PCs to talk to Macs. Or, I suggest that they install Virtual PC and then install our software onto one of their Macs.

As you can see, this is potentially a hard sale: I'm basically telling our customers, "go out there and spend some money, so that your stuff is compatible with our stuff, ya' steenkin' Mac users!"

As a Mac fan, this is discouraging to me. This calls for two options, in addition to the above:

1) our company can write Mac versions of our software (this is the part I said I'd mention later). Actually, Apple is already working on this one. Someone from Apple's Developer Relations group called me (I'm listed as a member of the Apple Developer Connection, with my employer's name mentioned). I directed him up our corporate food chain to the persons who can get our developers to write a OS-X-ified version of our apps.

Or

2) Apple can do things to make OS X a more viable client on PC networking environments.

Thankfully, Apple addressed 2) before I had written a rant about what is really lacking in OS X. This is where the title comes in...

If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em
One of the armchair quarterback plays I devised was for Apple to acquire Connectix and Thursby Software -- or to at least purchase the code for their cross-platform networking technologies. Either of these purchases would allow Apple to provide OS X Macs with built-in compatibility to Windows networks. Imagine being able to take your Mac to work, plug into an Ethernet hub and begin sharing files and accessing network printers.

Apple took it one, better step further and wrote the functionality into the next upgrade of OS X. In case you didn't hear, OS X 10.1 will have SMB (Samba) compatibility, which means that it will be able to file share and printer share with any SMB server, i.e., your everyday, modern Windows network.

The downside is that this will put a big dent in the sales of the aforementioned Thursby Software and Connectix, unless they will be able to provide OS X with fill-in-the-gap functionality that the OSs SMB support will be giving.

But, this is major news for people like my customers.

I believe that Apple is doing the right thing, the long-overdue right thing. The biggest problem with the Mac is compatibility with the Windows world. Apple's SMB move is the next best thing to building into the Mac a version of VirtualPC (which is a bad idea, IMO; if Apple does that, why buy a Mac, since it would essentially make the Mac a PC?).

But, I digress...

A good start, Apple
To me, Apple is doing all of the right things to make OS X a viable platform. Couple this with the excitement from the *nix community over the reality of a mainstream Unix with a world class GUI (and now, with standard file-sharing, printer sharing, and networking capabilities), Apple is positioning itself to make spectacular inroads into the computer market.

Me, I'll just be happy with an increase to at least a 10 percent market share, just enough to ensure that my favorite computing platform will remain viable into the future.

Rodney O. Lain is a regular columnist for The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column. Daily, he thanks Bill Gates for his IT job. If people didn't hate and fear Windows so much, he'd be an unemployed bum, instead of an employed one.

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