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Analysts: Apple inches into the workplace

We've always admired the the Apple Macintosh computer, though we figured they played little role in the workplace.

A recent study conducted by the ITIC seems to suggest otherwise. In a survey of 700 organizations--about 9 percent of which were government agencies—about 77 percent already have Macintoshes present in their environments.

O.K., so you're thinking it's the art department or the multimedia departments of these organizations that run these Macs. The artistes have always insisted on Macs.

But ITIC also found that 23 percent of those surveyed reported that they have a significant number of Macs present in their organizations. Significant means more than 50 percent of the desktop computers are Macs.

"There is a distinct discernible trend [of more Apple hardware use in the enterprise]. I think it will continue in a steady fashion," noted Laura DiDio who is a Principal at ITIC. "People are noticing that prices were coming down, that Apple has some good systems that aren't plagued with viruses."

These numbers are also verified, to a certain extent, by similar analysis completed by Forrester Research. "Since October 2006, Apple’s usage among Forrester’s clients has increased from 1.1 [percent] to 4.5 [percent], noted a report the analyst firm released last August, "Corporate Desktop Operating System Trends, Q4 2007 Through Q2 2008."

The author of the report, analyst Benjamin Gray noted that, "Mac continues its slow gain among Forrester’s clients, even without an enterprise strategy."

There are a number of issues for this recent bump in usage, according to these analysts. One, of course, is the quality of the product—Apple's are renown for their relative ease-of-use and secure settings. Also, Apple's shift from using PowerPC to Intel microprocessors in Macs also brought about increased interest. No longer held back from using Macs were those who wanted to switch but were held back by some Microsoft Windows program they needed to use. Thanks to how Intel-based Macs could run Microsoft Windows in a dual boot arrangement, such programs could now be run on a Mac box.

Decreasing prices have been another factor. Macintoshes have always been more expensive than PCs. But that price parity is starting to disappear, DiDio noted.

Another factor? The Apple iPhone and the iPod. Consumers have flocked to these devices, and a few were so impressed by the user experience of these user devices that they bought Macs. And maybe a few of these new enthusiasts started asking why they couldn't have Macs for working as well.

"You had a situation where the consumers who loved Apple came into the office and asked the IT manager to use a Mac for work," DiDio said.

The barriers that come with working within government networks are also starting to come down. A team in the Army chief information officer's office that contributed to the development of the Federal Desktop Core Configuration for Microsoft's operating systems is developing a comparable configuration model for Macs. (The Army has an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Mac users). The National Security Agency offers a security configuration guide for the Apple Mac Panther OS X v10.3.

Thus far, both ITIC and Forrester argue that the Mac's penetration into the government enterprise has been a grassroots effort, more the result of fervent users, than the coordinated marketing and support effort on the part of Apple.

"What has amazed me by this trend is that Apple has put very little actual muscle behind it. I think it caught them by surprise," DiDio said. Remember, Apple was initially reluctant to sell 1,100 Power Macs to Virginia Tech to build a supercomputer. They were built to be consumer computers, not nodes in a high performance computer, after all.

Enterprise support seems to remain an issue. For the administrator, Apple does offer the Apple Remote Desktop, but the range of third-party management tools pales compared to what can be enjoyed in a Microsoft Windows environment. Enterprise support from Apple is also an open question, given its relative lack of experience.

The company is "in position to support large sales of MacBooks. What I'm not sure they are in a position to do is provide the large scale technical support to enterprise, should issues arise," DiDio said.

As one IT manager told DiDio, "Look I can't have people running to the mall when I have a problem."

Posted by Joab Jackson on Jan 16, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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