The Practical Mac

Dear Mr. Jobs

- 2002.08.06 - Tip Jar

In the last five years, the Mac has returned from the brink of extinction to become not only relevant, but to flourish. Developers are flocking back to the Apple platform, and the Mac is back on the radar screen of book publishers. However, there are still some Windows and Unix programs for which there is no Mac equivalent.

In order to make the leap to the next level, the enterprise,* Apple must encourage or facilitate development of some crucial industrial-grade applications.

Here is my open letter to the CEO on this subject:

Att'n.: Steve Jobs, CEO
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Re: Apple Market Opportunities

Dear Steve:

Thank you again for the wonderful meal last Friday evening. Kay and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to your home. Melinda is a wonderful cook. We are planning a cookout next Saturday and hope you and your family will be able to join us. Don't forget to bring your Rook cards - I want a chance to prove that my poor showing Friday was indeed a fluke!

On a business note, I have been thinking about some markets in which Apple has little or no presence. Several of these areas represent a tremendous opportunity for the company. With the maturation of OS X, Apple is now strategically positioned to take advantage of these opportunities.

A simple, easy to use email server and firewall could help Apple make inroads into the server market of small and mid-size businesses. A great example of such an email server is MailGate. While this is a fine product, it only runs on Windows, and its stability is therefore impaired by the underlying OS.

The BSD Unix core of OS X offers a built-in personal firewall, and products like BrickHouse make it easily configureable. However, an enterprise-class firewall such as CheckPoint or Novell BorderManager is needed. Since CheckPoint runs on Unix, I would think it might be worth approaching that company about a port to OS X. Put the Mac GUI on top of it and you would have yourself a sure-fire winner!

It seems that every company is investing in, or at least exploring, enterprise management integrated software such as PeopleSoft. For the Mac to gain acceptance in the large corporate environments, you really need to be able to point to a solid ERP package that runs natively on the Apple platform.

There is also a large untapped market in the banking, credit union, and service bureau sector. Banks and credit unions generally have a back-office application which keeps track of all deposits, loans, credit card information, and anything else concerning their customers' accounts. This system is accessed by tellers every time they cash a check or accept a deposit, by loan officers when they make a loan, by customer service representatives when looking up account information, and in hundreds more ways every day. Often smaller banks will utilize a service bureau for these functions rather than attempting to manage such a system in-house. Some companies currently making the software and/or offering the service include Bisys, FiServ, Harland, Captiva and Summit Information Systems.

In the evening, checks, deposit tickets, and other paper items are fed through a high-speed scanner, imaged, and the information keyed into the accounts. Depending on the sophistication of the application, a great deal of this can be automated. Believe it or not, but there are actually vendors who sell such a solution that relies on a Microsoft SQL server to store and retrieve information! I wonder how many bank customers would sleep as soundly at night if they knew their private financial information was being stored on such an unstable and unsecure platform.

For applications that rely heavily on scanning and imaging, and for which stability and reliability is a necessity, I would think that Mac OS X would be a natural fit. Apple should investigate encouraging or facilitating the porting of some of these applications to the Mac, or even Xserve. Perhaps you might wind up in a joint venture - or even going it alone to develop the programs yourself. When calculating return on investment, remember that converting even one mid-size bank to the Mac would mean a hardware order in the thousands or even tens of thousands.

One area which I believe can come off of this list is the corporate accounting program. We have all lamented Intuit's decision to stop developing QuickBooks for the Macintosh. However, with MYOB's outstanding Account Edge and related products, this area appears well represented. One day soon we may even say, "Intuit who?"

Well, I'm sure I 've given you more than enough to think about for now. Hope to see you Saturday - and don't forget the Rook cards!


Steve Watkins LEM

* I am speaking of the corporate enterprise, not the Enterprise of Captains Archer, Kirk or Picard. It has long been accepted that all Star Trek computers are manufactured by Apple, which will be thriving in the 23rd century after perfecting the ultimate human interface device: a FireWire neural connection direct with the brain, available at the Apple store for $99.95.

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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