Apple Macs taking on the enterprise -- not so fast

Vista bashing primes IT shops for Mac adoption? Real IT guys and a Forrester study say don't bet on it.

With corporate Vista migrations on the slow track and lots of Vista bashing coming from end users, there is new talk about whether or not the Apple Macintosh belongs in the enterprise outside of its role in the creative departments.

But anecdotal evidence, plus fresh data from a recent study by Forrester Research Inc., the Cambridge, Mass.-based consulting firm, points to one conclusion -- don't count on it.

In the Forrester study released last week, the consulting firm said that enterprises' share of Windows users dropped by 4% during the year. But Microsoft Windows remains in firm control of the enterprise with 95% of business users still running Windows.

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In 2007, Apple did see its enterprise share grow threefold to 4.2%. But the researcher said that the increase came from "limited enthusiasts and small workgroups."

The reality is that mainstream IT shops have volume discount deals with PC vendors. Unless Apple discounts its prices, there is no incentive to make a switch. Other IT managers said they don't believe that the Mac OS has adequate support, considering how much development work surrounds Microsoft's .NET platform.

But, for the most part, the PC has the momentum and companies like to standardize on a device.

"From a hardware or stability standpoint, Macs are as good, or better, than PCs," said Chris Vaccare, an IT consultant at Computer Aid Inc., an Allentown, Penn.-based integrator. "[Apple] will need to do something to convince companies that have poured millions into the [PC]."

And IT shops won't usually change something that works for them. "We have a heavy investment in Windows," said Richard Miller, an IT manager at ConAgra Foods Inc., the Omaha, Neb.-based packaged food corporation. "People in the food industry are not techno geeks, and large corporate IT is a tough nut. But it's possible [Apple's] niche will expand."

Apple has flirted with the enterprise before. But in earlier times, its proprietary AppleTalk networking technology had to be integrated with Windows, its hardware was expensive, and a lack of enterprise-class service and support kept the company from moving into the mainstream, among many hurdles.

A turning point came in June 2006, when Apple said it would build hardware not just on PowerPC but using Intel Corp. microprocessors. Today, plenty of tech workers use Macs. There is also a rise in desktop virtualization software for the Mac, which permits access to Windows and Linux.

Many companies had written custom applications for their businesses that run on Windows only or on Internet Explorer on Windows. Today, Mac users can use one of the many specialized virtualization applications, such as VMware Inc.'s Fusion or Parallel's Desktop for Mac, to run the custom application on the Mac.

Apple may be counting on what Forrester Research calls tech populism, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester. Tech populism is a behavior trend in corporations that says, it's getting hard for businesses to ignore what their employees want because they drag it in anyway, Gillett said.

Some recent enthusiasm for Macs in the corporation came with Microsoft's recently disclosed plans to offer built-in support for Apple's IPhone.

"Handhelds are cracking it open," he said. "Combine that with the browser-based stuff. Office is important but email is straddling over to the browser. For general purpose computing, who cares [what platform you use]?"

Today however, corporations still want a lot of handholding. "Look at what Microsoft has to do to sell Windows into these accounts?" said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.

"I can't imagine Apple getting into this mess that Microsoft is in, where there is an Apple 10 Business Edition. I can't see them gearing up a sales force to call on businesses," he said.

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