An iMac phones home

May 21, 2007 10:06 AM EDT
I lost a good friend today. After an extended loan period, Apple finally asked for its iMac evaluation machine back. Now everyone in this household is going through withdrawl.

Apple originally sent the iMac as background for a feature I wrote on the future of the GUI. It was supposed to be here for a month or two. As the weeks and months ticked by no one wanted to see it go home. Apple didn't ask. We didn't tell.

Meanwhile, I kept trying to find time in my schedule to set it up as my primary work machine, as Scot Finnie did recently with a MacBook Pro. He never went back. Between other deadlines I never got around to the project.

But for 10 months we have had Windows XP home computer and the iMac test machine running side by side. And for the kids, the iMac became the preferred machine - even for Web browsing. I have repeatedly asked them why they prefer the Mac and they don't have an immediate answer. They just like it better. That happened right from the start. My 13-year-old and a friend set the machine up by themselves. Within 30 minutes were creating home movies, had an iPhoto gallery and had configured iTunes to work with an iPod.

Then the call came. We dutifully packed up the machine, removed the home movies and other multimedia content the kids had developed, and moved back to our tried and true, if somewhat less sexy, Windows XP machine.

The most interesting part of the experience was how the kids - the next generation of business users - took to the machine. While I am tethered to business applications that require a Windows machine, students are not. That may explain why in some universities, Mac use is surging.

As a consumer device the Mac has an edge over Windows PCs, which rule for business. As applications move to the Web, the Windows tether will lessen. As users continue to move from desktop PCs to laptops the end user machine may transform from a business machine with some consumer elements into a personalized consumer device that just happens to have a business component (with a dose of Parallels thrown in for legacy compatibility).

Can Apple can make gains in the business market? Perhaps that's the wrong question to ask.