Virtualization no silver bullet for Macs or mobile

As employees bring non-Windows devices into the business, vendors tell IT to impose Windows via virtualization -- and miss the point

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I got that message loud and clear when speaking with MokaFive CEO Dale Fuller, a former Apple exec who likes Macs but knows what his IT customers desire is more Windows. I wanted to know how his clients' users were taking advantage of the Macs in their work. Fuller didn't know because that wasn't what the businesses preferred users to do. They wanted instead to keep users in a Windows world: apps, data, and access.

So why bother? If you're essentially closing off the native capabilities of a nonstandard device, why go through the effort of supporting that device? Worse, why tell users you're open to diversity when you really aren't? They'll know you don't mean it, and those motivated enough will find their own ways if they can. It's better to say, "No, we support Windows only on the desktop and BlackBerry (or whatever) on mobile. That's the way it is. Sorry."

Why virtualization is a sensible but partial strategy for Macs (and Linux)
I kept pushing Fuller for specific instances of how his clients use MokaFive to run Windows on Macs, and he came up with the example of execs and travelers to be able to bring one laptop with them, with the personal side segregated from the business side. Several analysts I spoke with cited that same rationale as the prime reson execs are increasingly owning Mac. That's a perfectly understandable situation, especially where security and highly standard processes are big issues, but it's not a BYOD use case. It's a "here's how you can do work when you're not at the office" example, or a "here's how we let you lug around just one laptop when on the road" convenience. If those are the reasons for using a product like MokaFive, just be honest about it.

In reality, most apps accessed by employees in business are Windows-only, so Windows virtualization is a must for Mac (and Linux, for that matter) users. Execs who want MacBook Airs for their travel-friendly design typically work with Office, a browser, and Exchange or Notes -- all of which a Mac handles nicely, notes IDC analyst Bob O'Donell. It's also what many Macs in business are used for. It's a user experience benefit, not an application-functionality one.

Many other Macs are used in niches such as advertising, design, media services, visualization, and app development where Mac tools are often better than their Windows counterparts. But most employees stick with Windows, even where they have a choice, because that's where the apps are, O'Donnell says.

Perhaps as more employees use Macs, we'll see more business apps that don't have Windows counterparts. We're not anywhere near that day today, though that's the direction businesses should be going: seeking meaningful activities better done on Mac OS X than Windows beyond the usual creative categories. Why? Because as in any monoculture, you lose when you don't have a diverse gene pool.

Although Mac-only business apps are rare, there are examples of different, perhaps better software "genes" to explore. Apple's new iBooks Author is a great example of a Mac-only tool with significant potential for remaking reports, manuals, and other booklike content (for iPad distribution, in this case). Apple's Keynote is a much more creative presentation tool than PowerPoint, so it could help differentiate your sales presentations. Karelia Software's Sandvox is a far more intuitive HTML authoring tool than what you find in Windows. Omni Group's OmniGraffle Pro diagramming tool and OmniFocus visual ideation tool are unmatched on Windows. They also have iPad versions, as does Apple's Keynote.

Virtualization has a limited role in mobile
Mobile is a different story. There is no Windows version of a tablet that has any real usage, so there's no tablet legacy to gravitate to as there is for PCs. Even smartphones lack such legacy. For instance, the once-standard BlackBerry was never about apps; rather, it was about communications, which is pretty much the same across the major mobile platforms as it is for desktop platforms.

There's no corporate standard to virtualize in the mobile context. The closest you get is running Windows VDI clients on an iPad to access legacy apps -- though they aren't designed for the tablet environment. However, even with the UI mapping these tools do, it's not a viable experience for your primary tablet usage. Windows VDI on a smartphone screen is just painful. While you should have native apps and Web apps on iPhones, iPads, and Androids, Windows VDI should serve as a last resort only: for apps whose infrequent and/or mobile usage doesn't justify creating (or buying) a Web or native mobile version.

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