It's not your imagination. Apple Macintoshes are turning up in businesses beyond the creative departments, increasingly becoming a normal part of the IT fabric. One recent IT survey by researcher Information Technology Intelligence shows that 23 percent of respondents had at least 30 Macs in their businesses, 12 percent had at least 4,000 Macs -- and 68 percent said they would let users choose Macs as their work PCs in the next year. A Forrester Research survey of larger enterprises showed that Macs now account for 4.5 percent of deployed systems. (Both IDC and Gartner report that Macs now make up 9.1 percent of all PCs sold to individuals.)
IT's acceptance of the Mac appears to be genuine, not a grudging response to unwanted user demand: "Desktop managers are painting a rosy future for Apple on the corporate desktop," the recent Forrester report states. One reason is the quality of the Mac hardware and operating system; Information Technology Intelligence's survey shows that 82 percent of IT respondents rated the Mac platform as very good or excellent, compared with 60 percent for Windows Vista.
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"About a year ago, I started noticing that every time I brought my MacBook Pro to a conference, just about everyone else had one too," says Carl Howe, a research director at the Yankee Group. Howe is not alone: "We're definitely hearing more stories of Mac consumers pushing IT to let them use Macs at Windows-based work environments," says Tim Bajarin, president of the consultancy Creative Strategies.
The growth in Mac adoption has been driven by several factors, everything from Apple's conversion to an Intel-based platform with several virtualization options to run Windows to the Webification of corporate applications, the rise of software as a service, and Apple's dramatic ascendance in consumer mindshare.
"IT shouldn't be afraid of Macs," says Kunal Malik, IT director at Citrix Systems, a virtualization provider. "They're very manageable. You just have to prepare the environment, understand how to manage the Mac's limitations, and then help your users adopt the platform they want."
Acceptance of user-managed PC gives Macs a boost
A key reason for growing Mac acceptance in business is a significant change in corporate IT: an increased willingness to let down the fortress gates and let employees use the systems they feel most productive with.
"The Baby Boomers were happy if technology worked," says Benjamin Gray, an analyst at Forrester Research. "They're rapidly being replaced by much a younger, more technology-savvy generation that grew up with access to smartphones, handheld devices, and the full Internet in their pocket. These guys have a much greater passion for whatever devices and applications they feel they need in order to be productive."
Yankee Group's Howe points out that, unlike 10 years ago, today many tech-savvy users believe they have technology at home that is far superior to what they use at work. Companies looking to attract these users are beginning to get the message that they should loosen up their sourcing practices to give them the platforms they want -- and Macs make up a big percentage of them.
The related trend that favors the adoption of Macs in business is the blurred line between life and work computing. "It's getting less and less feasible for IT to separate home and work computing like it used to. Our business and consumer lifestyles, in which people work at the office six to eight hours a day, go home early to pick up sick kids at school or eat dinner, then work two or three hours more at night, have blended far too much," says Bajarin.
Road warriors have grown less tolerant of IT's efforts to prevent them from bringing their personal applications and files with them. "People just don't want to have to switch devices to go on the road," says Gray. "They want to be able to take along their personal life." IT departments have started to acknowledge these changes and look at ways to satisfy their users' needs.
What can a Mac do in business beyond graphics?
At the end of the day, a computer at the office has to support the business's work needs. Can a Mac really run the applications and connect to the systems that businesses need users to access?
It turns out that the Mac can run a large swatch of business applications, not just the graphics and publishing applications for which it's best known. Even if IT doesn't yet know that, many tech-savvy users do.
For example, Macs fit very well in software development and marketing, where a Mac with Windows and Linux VMs can test and demonstrate software in just about any OS. That's why many developers prefer Macs.
In sales and marketing, many users much prefer Apple's Keynote instead of Microsoft's PowerPoint as a presentation tool, as well as Pages instead of Word as a document-creation tool. "I've always found that working with graphics and different layouts is far easier and quicker in Pages than in Word," says John Welsh, a senior systems engineer for the Zimmerman and Partners ad agency.
Standard communication apps such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft Outlook (called Entourage on the Mac), Lotus Notes, and Novell GroupWise all have native Mac versions. And Macs can run pretty much any application delivered via a browser, whether or not it has a native Mac version. "Let's face it, for an awful lot of users, the PC is basically an e-mail and Web-browsing machine, with maybe a spreadsheet and/or word processor," says Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research.
And the Mac's ability to run Windows in a virtual machine ensures that Windows-only apps, including Web-delivered software dependent on Microsoft's ActiveX technology, means Mac users can be full participants. "We're hearing lots of companies say they'll spend $89 for Fusion or Parallels and support Windows applications on the Mac," says consultant Bajarin. "However, if the user has a problem with the Mac OS side, they tell him to go to one of the Genius Bars at a local Apple Store."
IT uses the tools it already has to manage the Windows VM, which protects the company from any security issues on the Mac side. "They also like that the VM is a file they can back up," says Yankee Group's Howe. "If the Windows desktop gets infected, they can simply go back to a previous copy."
Another option is to boot the Mac directly into a Windows partition using Apple's included Boot Camp software, though this option does not allow simultaneous use of Mac and Windows applications as virtualization-based Fusion and Parallels do. And because it is a partition, there's no single VM file to back up and restore from; instead, IT has to handle the Boot Camp partition as it would an actual PC's drive.