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Apple in business: The support IT doesn't know about

Mel Beckman | March 12, 2013
Apple products like the iPad, iPhone, and Mac are enigmas to most IT departments. Users love them, and they prove Apple items' value as productivity tools. However, Apple seems to eschew IT's traditional top-down management philosophy. At least that's the conventional wisdom. But is it true?

Saur also exploits MSDN in support of his Active Directory infrastructure, and he finds that Microsoft in the back office and Apple in the front office dovetail nicely. MSDN addresses the more-complex Microsoft server infrastructure, Saur says. But he finds that, when combined with AOSS, Apple's developer programs provide everything he needs to reliably deliver and support mobile apps to a large user community.

Inside Apple's consultant support

One area where Apple could beef up its support is in its relationship with third-party consultants, especially given the increased reliance of business IT staff on outside consultants.

Apple's Consultant Network provides a useful directory of consultants, but it offers little support to consultants themselves, especially compared to the community Microsoft runs. Apple charges consultants $395 per year for a basic membership and $695 per location for a Plus membership. Additional locations and consultants cost $550 per year and $150 per year, respectively. Although any active consultant can afford these costs, the program delivers little benefit beyond a listing on Apple's Consultant Network site. Members are required to pay for, and complete, certifications separately.

By contrast, Microsoft lavishes consultants with access, resources, and advertising opportunities. Consultants can purchase a Microsoft Partner Network subscription (called an Action Pack) for as little as $329 per year, but can also qualify for a free subscription by demonstrating expertise in one of Microsoft's competency areas: server, hosting, and application integration. Microsoft offers extensive free online training for anyone with the determination to achieve expertise through self-study.

A basic Microsoft Action Pack gives a consultant one free license to every Microsoft software product for internal use, as long as the subscription is in force. By earning competency certifications -- silver for entry level, gold for advanced -- consultants can gain additional licenses for Windows desktop and server software. Apple has nothing similar to the Action Pack, although Apple's palette of licensed software is admittedly much smaller.

Microsoft consultants also gain access to MSDN and its suite of developer tools. In the Windows world, such tools are part of day-to-day administration in enterprise shops, rather than being strictly useful for application development as in the case of Apple. The only restriction for Microsoft consultants is that they must use their MSDN access only for internal use, not to build applications for sale. By contrast, the main goal of the Apple developer program is to encourage the development of software sold through the App Store, not provide IT admin or consultancy help.

Microsoft's Partner Network and MSDN are necessary for business primarily due to the breadth and complexity of Microsoft's software universe. "I like MSDN, and I like the level of documentation that comes with it," Saur says. In fact, Apple could learn something from MSDN: "I'd like Apple to have better documentation than they have."


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