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

Apple is no Microsoft, but it has more IT options for supporting Macs and iOS devices than you might think

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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."

Microsoft also offers these same IT and consultant advantages to the general public -- including enterprise IT -- through its TechNet program. The $199 entry-level TechNet subscription doesn't include software, but it does provide free access to a single collection of Microsoft's well-respected, fee-based e-learning courses. Subscribers also get online chat access to Microsoft engineers and priority support in TechNet forums. The $349 Professional subscription adds free enterprise software licenses, two paid support instances, and increased e-learning access.

A third prong in Microsoft's consultant support is the Microsoft Valuable Professional program, which elevates selected technologists to near-god-like status in the IT world. Microsoft says it awards MVP status to "exceptional, independent community leaders who share their passion, technical expertise, and real-world knowledge of Microsoft products with others." You can't apply to be an MVP; Microsoft has to notice your abilities and give you an invitation. MVPs are the rock stars of the Microsoft universe, feted at conferences and given privileged access to Microsoft's Redmond headquarters. Apple has nothing like it.

This story, "Apple in business: The support IT doesn't know about," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in Mac OS X and mobile technology at For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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