How Apple Is Giving Small Biz Short Shrift

Apple's foot-dragging is sorely testing the patience and loyalty of Mac users

When Daniel Lubetzky started PeaceWorks in 1994, he ran the business from his Macintosh. The New York company sells gifts and foods, including spreads and candies made by Israeli-Palestinian partnerships. And as his business grew, Lubetzky stuck with Apple Computer products. "When I did my research, I strongly believed the Mac was superior," he says. Like many small-business owners, he was attracted by the Mac's ease of use, graphics abilities, and simple networking. But today, he is glumly considering moving PeaceWorks' (www. operations to Windows.

ERODING NICHE. The problem is Apple's general lack of interest in the business market. When CEO Steve Jobs resumed command of a foundering Apple in 1997, he focused the company's efforts on its most important markets: schools, consumers, graphic arts, and multimedia creation. Business got short shrift, and the Mac's niche in the workplace continued to erode.

Today, Macs have mostly been banished from corporations except for specialized creative departments, and Apple has given up on getting back into the corporate mainstream. While the company's products, particularly the simple and inexpensive iMac, are attractive to smaller companies, the impediments to widespread business use of Macs are formidable.

The biggest problem is the lack of software. Microsoft has covered the most basic needs with Office 98, which lacks the Access database manager and Outlook contact manager found in Windows versions. Other basic programs include the Internet Explorer 4.5 Web browser and Outlook Explorer 5.0, an outstanding e-mail program.

Beyond that, the pickings get slim. Lubetzky is frustrated that his Now Up-to-Date & Contact software cannot synchronize his calendar and contact list with a 3Com Palm. PowerOn Software promises Palm support in a future Now version. Versions of Symantec ACT! and Lotus Organizer are made for the Mac, but neither offers Palm connections.

Accounting software is a rock-bottom necessity for business computing, and here, too, the Mac comes up short. QuickBooks dominates the market, but Intuit has frozen Mac development, citing a "very small" market. Mac users are stuck with a four-year-old version that does not let multiple users enter data over a network. And as of the end of this year, Intuit will no longer update tax tables for the Mac version's payroll module. A third party, Aatrix Software, promises to fill the gap eventually.

Apple's service and support has also become an issue for business. One of the main attractions of the Mac for PeaceWorks was easy networking at a time when linking Windows computers was still a black art. The original Mac network, called LocalTalk, was slow and primitive but very simple, especially for sharing printers. But beginning with the iMac, new Macs no longer can use LocalTalk. And Terry Romero, who handles networking along with running the Web site for PeaceWorks, says Apple's technical support has been of little help in the transition to the newer EtherTalk. "It's still very unstable," she complains.

"PERFECT TARGET." The most important step Apple could take to improve the company's small-business prospects would be the sort of effort to entice software publishers that has dramatically improved the availability of Mac games and graphics programs. Clent Richardson, who heads Apple's developer relations, says that "small business is a perfect target" for the Mac. "We're not ready to discuss the specifics of our small-business efforts and plans," he adds, "but rest assured we are on top of it and will do it right."

While those plans develop, Apple would be wise to prevent further customer defections. Recognizing that software gaps will force businesses to use Windows, it might consider a small-business software package that bundles Virtual PC from Connectix, which lets Windows programs run on a Mac, and PC MACLAN from Miramar Systems, which makes it easy for Macs and Windows PCs to share files and printers on a network.

Otherwise, Apple is likely to hear a lot of customers who share Lubetzky's lament. "If we don't get some help soon, I'm going to have to get a PC," he says. "It's not a pleasant prospect." And not just for Lubetzky. The loss of the Mac as a viable business tool would be a sad erosion of choice in an increasingly homogenized world.

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