The iPhone may have opened the door for Apple in the enterprise, but it was the one-two punch of the iPad and revamped MacBook Air in 2010 that really did the trick, an analyst said today.
The result: An end to Microsoft's long-running monopoly in the enterprise.
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"If you do an inventory of the devices people use for work by operating system, not just those used at work, there's already a significant share of devices that are not Windows," said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research.
"More than a quarter of those devices are running something other than Windows. And what with it taking Microsoft years to drive Windows Phone, and the upcoming Windows 8 'Metro' interface beyond that, and how hard Apple and Android will push back, it's the end of Microsoft's monopoly for devices used for work," Gillett said.
"That lock, that's over and done with. We're in a heterogeneous environment due to the increase in use of mobile devices, hardly any of them Windows, and a dramatic increase in using technology at home or out of sight of enterprise IT," Gillett added.
According to Forrester, which polled more than 13,000 employees and IT personnel in 17 countries, more than one in five enterprise workers now use an Apple device -- often one they purchased themselves.
Gillett stressed that the survey didn't just look at what was used on the office premises, but what was used for work, no matter the location.
"This is about workers using Apple products for work, regardless of where they do so, which in many cases is in the home or at least out of sight of IT," Gillett said.
He called Apple's enterprise strategy "non-traditional," as a way to differentiate it from the route that, for example, Microsoft takes by building in features and creating management tools specifically for business.
"Do they have a traditional enterprise strategy? No, but they have a focus on the individual by making products that delight end users. Further, when they do support enterprise IT, such as with their support for Exchange [on the iPhone], they do it in a way that doesn't make [users] run to IT for support."
Forrester's survey showed that 15 percent of the polled workers use one Apple-branded device at work, while another 6 percent use more than one of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac trio, for a total employee share of 21 percent.
More of those polled -- 11 percent -- said they used an iPhone than either an iPad (9 percent) or a Mac (8 percent).
But Gillett attributed the jump in Apple device usage among workers to the latter pair, not the iPhone.
"Before the iPhone, Apple in the enterprise was all about the Mac, but when the iPhone showed up [in 2007] it cracked the door open," said Gillett. "But it was the [refreshed] MacBook Air, combined with the iPad, that really created a whole reshift of how to look at business use of devices.
Those two events -- the debut of the original iPad, and the revamp and price drop of the MacBook Air -- both occurred in 2010.
Gillett cited the usability of the MacBook Air -- particularly its ability to instantly awaken from sleep -- its thin and light form factor, and oddly enough, its pricing as reasons for its success among enterprise workers.
"It's considered a premium device, but when other companies have tried to duplicate the hardware, they've had a hard time matching the MacBook Air's price," said Gillett.
IT decision makers surveyed by Forrester forecast a 52 percent increase in the number of Macs they will issue to workers in 2012 over the previous year. In 2011, nearly half -- 46 percent -- of the companies polled said they already offer employees a Mac as an option to the usual Windows PC.
While the Macs actually handed out to employees last year accounted for only 7 percent of all computers -- the same single-digit range as the Mac's worldwide usage share of 6.4 percent as measured last month by metrics company Net Applications -- Gillett was bullish on Mac OS X's future.
"You cannot underestimate the MacBook Air's impact," he said. "It's why Mac use has really surged among workers in the last couple of years."
But is saying that, "Windows' dominance is at an end" -- as Gillett stated in his report -- going too far?
He doesn't think so.
"I'm very confident that the lock Microsoft and Windows has had is gone," Gillett said.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com. See more articles by Gregg Keizer.
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This story, "Forrester: Apple breaks Microsoft's lock on enterprise workers" was originally published by Computerworld.