IT's Apple problem is not Apple's problem

Even today, IT managers complain that Apple won't give it a three-year plan. No wonder Apple ignores IT

At a recent conference, the CIO of a large fast-food chain complained that his company's IT staff had been talking to Apple last fall and heard nary a hint of Mac OS X Mountain Lion, which Apple announced and dropped into beta in mid-February and will be released this summer. We were all equally surprised -- yet informed at the same time. The CIO pointed to this as a prime example of how Apple will never be a fit in the enterprise.

To me, this is a classic example of why IT is increasingly pushed to the sidelines when it comes to user technology and confined to the corporate bowels that run the network, email, and ERP systems. Get a clue: The notion of a three- or five-year technology road map is untenable and unrealistic outside of mainframes, ERP, retirement tracking, and nuclear containment -- the systems that need to be static and stable at their cores for decades. Any IT leader expecting such plans from any user-oriented technology provider should be fired.

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This CIO should count his blessings that for a mere $200 a year, his whole IT and developer team can get early access to Apple's OS X betas, which generally grants users six months to learn and understand a new version of Mac OS X. (There's a similar program for iOS.) Given that the shelf life of Mac OS X is about two years, that's a realistic heads-up for developers and IT.

Anyhow, what advantage would you get from a three-year plan that indicated OS X Lion was due in summer 2011 and OS X Mountain Lion was due in summer 2012? Apple certainly won't commit to the specifics that far ahead, though it obviously has a game plan and a goal.

User technology moves too fast for such old-fashioned Soviet-style planning. Also, vendors need to maintain flexibility in the dynamic technology market. IT is losing its grip on corporate technology precisely because it clings to inflexible, slow-moving, overly cautious approaches.

As proof a long-term heads-up to IT is pointless, look at Microsoft: It has offered such plans for Windows, but they've mattered not a whit. Microsoft's plans are necessarily general and noncomittal that far out, and they don't let IT do meaningful preparation. The three-year plan for Vista didn't indicate it would be a disaster, and the three-year plan for Windows 8 certainly didn't indicate the Metro bolt-on or the irrational mess it seems to becoming. It's true that Microsoft tends to give developers and IT a year's notice, but its refresh cycle has been in the three- to five-year range on both desktop OSes and server OSes; proportionally it's on par with Apple.

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