But similar to PC hardware users, for every story like mine there's one of a supremely happy Apple user. So as long as you're willing to pay slightly more for what amounts to a cool case and an Apple logo, Apple hardware will work, on average, just as well as anything else.
This is the one that's going to raise the most furor. I didn't do this category for the "Does Vista Suck?" column because that's really all Vista is about: business. To them, the home market is an also-ran--an important one, but certainly in second place when it comes to primary development focus. But when you look at both the Software and Hardware sections above and combine that with Apple's marketing, Apple seems to have the exact opposite orientation--consumer first, business second. A distant second. And for business buyers, that's an issue important enough to warrant a grade.
Sure, on a bits And bytes level, the computer will work fine in most business settings, especially SMBs who aren't pushing the tech envelope on the server app side (though I'm still waiting for a tablet or even a docking station). But Apple does absolutely nothing to attract these customers; it just isn't the audience Apple's chasing. Just look at the company's advertising: Guys who wear suits are stuffy and stupid. Apple users have beard stubble and wear yesterday's underwear, and fathers don't want them dating their daughters. It's a SOHO, I'm-cooler-than-you, coffee house image, and Apple seems to like it that way.
Yeah, I'm aware they have a server, but it seems that they're as willing to talk about it as Michael Vick is to talk to the ASPCA. I've been covering SMBs for six years now and I've gotten an Apple Server press release a grand total of ... never. Only two of my field clients have ever been aware that Apple even had a server and neither had any idea what it did. Which is weird because by all accounts, it's an excellent platform; fast, manageable and smart about hardware resources. (Just read Tom Yager's reviews of the thing.) But just like the Novell of a few years ago, Apple doesn't mention the box to anyone who isn't already a rabid Apple fan. And the company mentions its enterprise marketing to practically no one.
Is that a big fudging deal? For the academic and techie crowd, no. They know what they want, and they know Apple's bringing it. For the SMB or enterprise CEO/CFO putting in a six- or seven-figure purchase order, you'd better believe it's a big deal. For one thing, who wants to buy a product from someone who looks down on you? For another, they're not getting the warm and fuzzy we'll-support-you-no-matter-what vibes from Cupertino. It doesn't matter how solid the OS might be; if business buyers don't feel comfortable with the deal, they're not going drop the bucks.
Overall, does OS X suck? Hell, no. In some ways it's superior to Vista and that's probably only going to increase when the elusive Leopard finally rears its furry head. Yeah, Apple failed a category where Vista didn't, but that's a fuzzy business/marketing category, not something tangibly technical. But for all its fuzziness, business marketing is still important to the buyers in that market and the intended readers of this column. And something has to explain why Apple simply isn't doing as well in the business market as Windows -- and this three to five years since it began its serious popularity push.
On purely technical level, OS X rocks. Apple did a fantastic job of taking a solid Unix kernel and putting a slick and pretty face on it. I wish they'd open it up to more third-party development so I'd have more apps and more buying choices, but that's like wishing Microsoft would make an OS platform that really ran in Version 1 without a service pack. It's just not their way.
From the aspect of this column, I can't give Apple a single letter grade. I've got to give it one from a technical, Apple-only perspective, and another from a business-buying standpoint. From the purely technical, I'd give it a B+, which may rise to an A- the longer I keep using it.
From a business buyer's perspective, however, I've got to give it a C-. It passes, but with limited third-party software support and a company that seems to care so little for me as a customer, I simply wouldn't feel comfortable making those kinds of purchases.