Mon 24 Feb 2003
Category : Commentary/takingStock.txt
I hope to show how the Mac is, in fact, the Ultimate Business Machine. No less. Yet I've given two examples, so far - how to turn on the built-in web server, make it accessible via a domain name (even with a dynamic IP address), and then how to set up a weblog. But that's really just another desktop publishing scenario, isn't it?
That's not getting us very close to using a Mac for business. But the point of the exercise, so far, is that one learns faster when doing something. These are fairly simple things to do, and they get something useful done - without needing to visit the command-line. To do more, we'll need to get friendlier with OSX's Terminal.app.
The thing about the PC world is this : it's the amount of tinkering at this level, with software, that produces its enormity of solutions.
The PC world may be boring. But you've got to put yourself in the shoes of a business owner - to understand how it came to be so.
Let's say, you own a wine company. When you prepare to ship a case of Bordeaux to a retailer, you've got to complete a set of transactions in its entirety. You've got to deduct the stock in the warehouse, post into accounts receivable, recognise this as income, generate a bill, initiate a GIRO transfer if applicable, initiate a re-order, initiate a delivery order, among many other things. The point is : if any single transaction in this set fails, for whatever reason, you've got to have a system that knows how to roll back all the other transactions in the set, so that the database remains consistent.
Otherwise, the system will soon produce financial figures that bear only a fictitious relationship to reality.
FileMaker has never been able to cut it. The thing is : if we want to be able help businesses solve their problems, we've got to be able to take that responsiblity - produce data that is an accurate representation of the business. And inter-operate with other businesses.
The PC guys have never been shy to take that responsibility. And when they say, they have no interest in that other platform, it's hard to fault business owners when they concur, especially when it looks like some money saved. But what we've seen is that they've thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Businesses also need to communicate ideas well. When you want to write well, you don't want technology to get between you and your idea. The Mac has always been great for the creative people. It's no secret that people like Stephen King and Michael Crichton use only Macs. But that's the baby in the water that the PC guys can't see, won't see, and never will.
But that doesn't mean the baby isn't important to the business owner. Once you've got the data, it's also a critical business advantage to know how to organise the data, put a context around it, and present it so that everybody can draw the right meaning out of it.
The techies are only concerned with the technology while the creatives know that it is the information that matters. If you can use a technology that unifies these two objectives, in the sense that both parties willingly agree that good design matters (and the technology constantly reinforces this by the beautiful way in which even tedious things get done), then you may have a business force to reckon with.
Communicating well is also important to business. Only, to them (if you pardon a quick switch of metaphors) it's considered the sizzle, not the steak. So, the thing to do, if you follow this logic, is to be willing to take responsibility for solving their first problem. Building business systems may seem un-cool, but it is not necessarily so - not if you're using a Mac running OSX. It's got free, Open-Source, world-class business solutions in spades.
The best we can do, if we succeed, is to get the best of both worlds - solve real-world problems in the funnest way possible. If not, we should at least work towards seeing the end to hearing "Oh, Machintosh (sic), hah? I'm sorry we only support PCs". Can't get no respect? Don't wait for Apple to do it. They can't do everything, even if they want to. They've delivered the power without sacrificing their usual standards of usability and craftsmanship. It's quite enough to get going.