It has been 25 years since Apple launched the Mac, with its groundbreaking $1.5m Superbowl ad. It has been through its dark year, and is now looking at a bright future. But how did it get here and where is it going next?
The firm is the darling of the consumer technology industry but never really made it in the enterprise. When it did try to get into enterprise markets, it lost its way, say commentators.
>> See also: Photos: 25 years of the Apple Mac
"It made some attempts. It had the Apple Unix operating system (AUX), but in its DNA, the company has a creative element and leveraged these creative users around graphics, desktop publishing and marketing," says Barry Crist, who joined Apple in 1985 after leaving college, and is now CEO at LikeWise, a firm that sells software integrating Macs with Active Directory. "It lost its momentum in the enterprise. The value proposition in the products suffered and it really diluted the brand."
The company was failing in the enterprise and the consumer space during its darkest years, after John Sculley's tenure at the company, before Jobs returned in 1997. Since then, the company's turnaround has been legendary.
The reinvention of the operating system based on Jobs' own NeXTstep OS and FreeBSD has given Apple the opportunity to innovate more effectively with operating system features and enhancements. The switch to Intel's commodity platform has made it easier to innovate in hardware.
But Apple still represents just 8-10% of the global enterprise market. So how do Apple developers make a living?
Michael Simmons, marketing and business development manager at Cultured Code, a software startup that has just released a task management application for the Mac called Things, says, "We love the platform and we see as users how much better it is to develop for.
The developer tools, the community - the whole operating system," he says. "If our main goal is to make money, then I don't think things would be the way they are. But I believe our main goal is to be developers that produce best-in-class products and are unique. So the priorities are shifted. There's money and there's quality."
'1984' Apple Macintosh Commercial
With many Mac development shops still coming from modest beginnings, it is not surprising many of them cling to the Mac for reasons of personal preference. Some developers, like Steve Shepard, used to work at Apple.
Shepard, who developed software for writers called Storyist, worked in the firm's advanced technology group during the Sculley era before leaving to pursue a career in Silicon Valley. "We're a mom and pop shop," he says.
Some believe Apple is now wheedling its way back into enterprises. "One municipal department here in California is rebuilding its entire technology department to open up the possibilities for Linux, Solaris and Mac," says Gray Rothkpf, founder of 01.com, which offers hosting and enterprise service solutions for Zimbra, Yahoo's online collaboration suite.
The general dissatisfaction with Microsoft's Vista has opened up an opportunity for Apple to capitalise on this, points out Clift, and with Windows 7 still a way off, it has more time to build on its success.
And that consumersation of IT, where IT departments capitulate and decide that they have to give users more choices, could see Apple's mobile platform also making inroads into the enterprise, too.
However, Apple faces challenges. Jeff Moss is the organiser of the Black Hat security conference, which had a spat with Apple this year when the company stopped its engineers from speaking. He argues the firm still isn't as serious as it could be about security because of its focus on the consumer market.
The other challenge revolves around pricing. The firm is known for selling superbly designed products at a premium price. In an economic downturn, how willing will customers - consumer or otherwise - be to pay that extra? Hopefully for Apple, even in a deep recession, its customers will continue to think different.
This was first published in January 2009