Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will it matter? Will the world really change now that Apple is rolling out a sub-$500 Mac named after a cute little car? Will the Mac mini have any impact on corporate IT at all? The answers are pretty clear: Yes, no and sure, but not the way Mac lovers might expect.
Let's get the obvious analysis out of the way upfront: A $500 price tag won't make corporate IT shops crave Macs. Heck, if Apple gave them away with a $500 bill taped to each machine, we still wouldn't use them. The transition costs would be too high.
But will the Mac mini have an impact on us? Probably. And it'll likely almost all be good news.
We're used to writing off Apple as irrelevant because Macs don't run Windows software. (Strictly speaking, they can, but it's usually not worth the trouble to make that happen.) There might be some Macs in marketing or some other odd corner of our corporate world. But Macs -- with a measly 3 percent market share in desktop computers, by units shipped -- aren't mainstream. They're not for us. That's corporate IT gospel.
But notice: Even at just 3 percent, there are still only seven companies in the world that sell more computers than Apple does. And most of those seven companies are sweating, because there's not much they can do to innovate or differentiate in the lock-step, beige-box game.
Meanwhile, irrelevant Apple gets to do pretty much whatever it wants. Because corporate IT shuns Macs, Apple doesn't sell to us. It sells to the Mac faithful, who will buy almost anything with an Apple logo. And to small businesses that can't deal with Windows kludginess. And to students who want to be hip. And to grannies who just want something simple they can use to e-mail, surf the Web and look at pictures of the grandkids.
So if Apple wants to abandon floppy disks or sell computers in funny colors or shapes, it can. In contrast, PC makers have been trying since 1999 to get away from the beige tower and legacy features. So far, they haven't even managed to get rid of parallel printer ports.
PCs don't change because corporate IT won't let them. We don't buy Macs, so that's where the interesting things happen -- things that sometimes trickle down to us.
This time, the interesting things will probably be price and form factor.
Price? This is the cheapest Mac ever. It's no more computer than customers can get from anyone else for $500, but the "wow" factor and Apple's pricey reputation will make it more attractive than an equivalent PC. That will force the low end of PC pricing down even further.
That will drag down the whole PC pricing schedule -- and IT will benefit.
Form factor? Where Macs lead, PCs follow. Dictionary-size PCs haven't moved much in the U.S. in the past. But if the Mac mini becomes a fad item, PC vendors will finally offer really small PCs that are hard for users to fiddle with.
That sort of PC is easier to lock down than a beige tower. It's easier to support and quicker to swap out. It won't be for all our users, but it'll be a nice option to have.
What if the mini takes off? The Mac might edge into being a viable option for corporate IT. Then we'd have three options on our short list: generic Windows PCs, generic Linux PCs and Macs. Remember the "10 and 2" rule: "Ten is too many; two is not enough." It would be really good to have three flavors to use in playing vendors off one another.
Of course, if the Mac mini doesn't take off, we've lost nothing. For corporate IT, there's no downside to the mini. And any upside will take a year or so to hit us. It'll be a while before we see whether Apple creates as big a buzz with the mini as its four-wheeled namesake.
In the meantime, we can enjoy the ride.
For more enterprise computing news, visit Computerworld.com. Story copyright (c) 2005 Computerworld, Inc. All rights reserved.
See more about Mac mini at Macworld's Mac mini page.
This story, "Opinion: Mini Options" was originally published by PCWorld.