About every six months, a particular event in my life as a working CTO forces me to step back and reconsider the Mac as an enterprise platform. Sometimes it’s a discovery I make on my own as a PowerBook user, other times it’s a new software release. This time, it was a simple question from a new salesperson we had just hired: Can I use a Mac here? Peering over the Cinema Display connected to my PowerBook, where I had just been typing, I said, “If you promise not to ask for support or help of any kind, sure.” He quickly agreed to take a PC. This short exchange raised a few issues about Mac support in the enterprise that I hadn’t fully considered until now.
The most hardcore Mac evangelists would have you believe that Macs require little end-user support, but with Apple reigniting sales primarily through consumer technology (some call the iPod the “gateway drug” to the OS X platform), I think corporate IT could potentially face a whole crop of end-users who are not the kind of self-supporting Mac enthusiasts to which we’ve all grown accustomed. Regardless of the platform, running your own computer in a corporate environment without support is time-consuming. When you bring a Mac into the corporate environment, you have to factor in software overhead such as VPN clients, Lotus Notes, and backup clients. In InfoWorld’s case, we aren’t even able to use our excellent outsourced, subscription-based backup service on Macs because the service only supports PCs. I know these difficulties well because I have been using a Mac in our environment for well over a year now. In a PC world, I either back up my own Mac or build a separate Mac backup environment, which is more expensive than the PC service.
Whenever I even hint at the difficulties of running a Mac in a Windows world, my inbox is flooded with Virtual PC testimonials. For the uninitiated, Virtual PC is software that allows you to run Windows XP in a virtual machine environment on your Mac. Compared to an actual hardware PC, Virtual PC is hardly proof that you can run Windows applications on a Mac. On my 1.25GHz PowerBook with 1GB of RAM, I feel like I’m being punished every time I launch it. After I installed Virtual PC, the first message I got upon booting up the Windows XP virtual machine was a pop-up in my task bar that read: “Your computer might be at risk. Antivirus software might not be installed.” If enterprise end-users use Virtual PC for anything mission-critical, IT has to figure out a way to manage another Windows machine, virtual or not, viruses and all.
Of course, you can spend a lot of time coming up with creative work-arounds for this kind of pain, but I’m writing this as someone who is responsible for making day-to-day IT operations work with resource and time constraints. My job isn’t about evangelizing a platform for which I have a personal preference unless doing so is best for the company. Though I do enjoy tinkering and I do think carving out some time for playing around is important for innovation in IT (witness the Google 20 percent rule), I’m usually working on some kind of deadline with real deliverables that must be met. I will continue to use a Mac because I like it, and I’m willing to support myself 100 percent, but I’m not going to spend my time evangelizing Macs to people who probably should be using PCs. I’m too busy.