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  • A Watershed for Macs in the Enterprise

    October 28th, 2011

    In yesterday’s column, I briefly mentioned a CNN Money story, citing a report from Forrester Research entitled, “”People are Bringing Macs to Work — It’s Time to Repeal Prohibition.” The title says it all, that more and more people want to use Apple gear at their office, that some are doing it unofficially, relying on outside resources for help. The report calls it “bootlegging,” though that term doesn’t strike me as completely accurate.

    Now as most of you recall, Apple has announced that 93 percent of Fortune 500 companies are testing or deploying the iPhone; some 90 percent are supporting the iPad. It stands to reason that Apple’s mainstay product, the Mac, ought to get serious attention too.

    The full report is available for the usual exorbitant fee from Forrester, but, according to the author, David K. Johnson, more and more companies are supporting Macs, although 41 percent of the firms that were surveyed still do not officially allow Mac use.

    Now IT objections to Macs are traditional, and go back to the days of DOS. Then and now, Macs were regarded as pretty toys, while regular PCs were the tools you needed to use if you want to get real work done. Indeed, I remember once helping a Mac user set up her computer in an otherwise all PC shop. It was the mid-1990s, and the Mac OS wasn’t quite as easy to integrate. On the other hand, I was able to seamlessly connect to the office laser printer, an HP, simply by using the standard LaserWriter driver and choosing the right device description, or PPD, file. The IT people simply stared at me, because doing the same thing on a Windows 95 box meant installing special drivers and jumping through configuration hoops that weren’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes it worked, sometimes you had to repeat the process several times.

    Yes, Windows 7 is, in that respect at least, much simpler than Windows 95. Microsoft has made a few useful moves towards simplifying the setup process over the years, particularly with peripherals. But the Mac still has other advantages. The Forrester report admits that, for example, Mac note-books are more reliable and require less maintenance than PC note-books, largely because Apple uses premium, longer-lasting parts. Johnson also admits that Mac OS X is not as vulnerable to malware. All told, Mac users are more productive, simply because they spend less time fiddling with their machines — or waiting for an IT person to help — and thus can concentrate on getting more work done.

    The superior reliability and higher productivity means, of course, that Macs cost less over the period of ownership even though the initial purchase price might be higher. What’s just as interesting to me is that this is the very same argument made in favor of the Mac platform since the 1980s. Even when Macs cost far more in relation to PCs than they do today, upkeep was cheaper. And getting more work out of an employee was a given, since they could not complain about PC problems near as often.

    I suppose if someone wants to goof off, of course, using a Mac is a bad idea.

    But the Mac’s growth in the enterprise isn’t necessarily happening because Apple has suddenly become more active in seeking enterprise customers. Yes, there is a business sales division, and yes, there are different product bundles to accommodate larger purchases of hardware and software licenses. In the end, however, the impetus for the Mac comes from the consumer, employees from the top down who prefer Apple products and demand that their system admins get with the program.

    While resistance may deter a regular employee, when the boss says they are going to use an Apple machine, so figure it out, it’s not as if the IT people have much choice in the matter. They can object, of course, but I also think they’d want to lighten their workload; that is, unless they fear that the workload will become so light that some of them will end up on the unemployment lines.

    The other big change in the Mac ecosystem these days is that regular users seldom repeat the old PC myths. They can’t, for example, tell you that there are no apps for Macs, since that’s not true, although some software for vertical markets may still have no Mac equivalent.

    I remember sitting at a copy center waiting to get some business cards, some years ago, when several Mac users arrived. I know they were Mac users because they came with their note-books. But they weren’t real Mac users, since they did all their desktop publishing work on PCs. When I asked them why, they remarked that they had font matching problems, not realizing that the ability to use lots of high-resolution fonts originated on the Mac, with the invention of Adobe PostScript. Thus, their font problems were either due to not having Windows equivalents, or simply not understanding how to manage cross-platform compatibility issues. In passing, it’s very likely the Mac platform wouldn’t have survived had there been no PostScript, an Apple LaserWriter and the original desktop publishing app, PageMaker. I wonder what kind of computers we’d be working on now if things were different then.

    Meantime, it’s good to know the business world continues to take Macs more and more seriously.

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