Hey Apple! You Didn’t Build That!

By August 31, 2012
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Hello GeekNation, Andrew here.

So with politics in the air and the ramifications of Apple vs. Samsung falling around us like Newton’s little inspirations after they’ve been through a horse, I thought I would take a moment to light a fire under most of you by revealing the truth: I’m not a huge fan of Apple.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply fond of some of their products, and even MacOS has its place (in front of my dear 80-yr-old mother, for example). I own and use an iPhone and iPad quite regularly, and even have a couple of Mac minis about the place doing their Macish best. But Apple itself confounds me. I think the part that gets to me the most is that they have leapt to the forefront of people’s minds as the example of what a computer IS without solving or even attempting to solve the really HARD problems of computing in their own way. They take advantage of an infrastructure that is invisible to most people, and think they hit a home run. I find myself saying of Apple, “You didn’t build that!”

And by “that,” I mean that Apple has risen to the top without attacking the whole problem. People talk about the Apple ecosystem, and how it encompasses hardware, software and commerce, but they fail to see how limited and impoverished an ecosystem it is. Apple has made cars, very successful cars, that are easy to buy, easy to drive, and easy to keep. But they haven’t built the roads, passed the traffic laws, set up the underlying structure that makes those cars even possible, and I feel like Microsoft and other real pioneers have gotten short shrift as the architect of the structure that made Apple’s success possible.

Apple has very consciously stayed away from solving the really hard problems of computing in the organization and enterprise, and somehow gotten credit for redefining computing without actually doing anything at scale. The tasks of defining how to handle ten thousand or a hundred thousand computers on the desks of a large organization like GM or Citibank, those are things you do with Microsoft Windows servers and clients running on Dell or HP hardware, and for a reason. Microsoft has thought through how to deal with distributed, hierarchical organizations with things like Active Directory, WMI and group policies, and Dell and HP have responded with hardware that is elegantly designed in its own way, not shiny aluminum for a showroom floor set up to separate rubes from their cash $2000 at a time, but clean, easily repairable designs set up for gimlet-eyed CIOs and COOs not looking to spend an arm and a leg every time a hard disk goes bad. When every consumer is their own IT person, you can create a sealed box that they bring to the temple of Genius every time it cooks a drive because the damn thing runs so hot. But big companies don’t have that luxury, when people come to work they need the tools to do it or they sit idle and cost you plenty. So you need machines that can be fixed in a heartbeat, reimaged or drive swapped in a matter of minutes.

The closest Apple has come to this is their own stores, where their hardware faces a non-too- careful public at scale, and if they were paying retail for their own machines, I’d be surprised if those stores had Apples in them.

Follow me on Twitter @Solmssen

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Andrew Solmssen

About me: I am a nerd. I nerd it up currently as an independent computer consultant and stand-up comic, but my nerd history is long. I started by typing in BASIC programs on a TRS-80, progressed to Apple IIs and then PCs and Macs. My first internet transaction was downloading the "Canonical Collection of Light-Bulb Jokes" from an FTP site on a line-printing terminal at the University of Maryland in 1984. My CompuServe ID was 73300,13, and my Slashdot user id is 9448. I still have some Apple DOS 3.3 disks somewhere, and the first USR Courier 2400bps modem I ever owned. I have been to three different Fry's in one day. I can build a new PC in an hour from stuff I have around the house. I started by administrating a Novell 2.15c network and now do Windows, Mac, and Unix. I'm not a comic book geek, or a Star Wars guy, or even a D&D guy, although I can speak those languages. Nerd, that's me. Visit me at www.bitboy.com, facebook.com/solmssen, and twitter.com/solmssen/