The Macs Stealthy Return into the Enterprise

Opinion: Apple could be waiting for the release of Mac OS X Leopard to tout its credentials for business customers. But Windows switchers appear to be raising the Mac flag already in the enterprise.

Believe it or not, prior to the great PC purges of the middle 1990s, the Macintosh was an enterprise computer. Its the truth.

In bygone days, a good number of corporations and academic sites did all their desktop computing on the Mac, purchase orders were cut for thousands of Macs at a time, and Apple showed its stuff in booths at enterprise-centric shows such as DBExpo. Others had a mix of Macs and PCs. Of course, this was a time when a full-fledged GUI was a novelty to those used to a DOS prompt.

Despite its absence from that market for some 10 to 15 years, the Mac is making a comeback, starting with former Windows users now switching platforms. While this move often comes without the blessing of IT management, the trend has already started, according to some eWEEK readers.

In a recent column, I countered several recent online contradictions of Apples "halo effect," the notion that a positive experience with an Apple product, such as an iPod, will lead audio customers to buy a Mac. I suggested that not only was there a halo effect, but that the halo would soon be felt in business and even the enterprise.

Now, some readers said this was a bunch of hooey.

For example, Daniel Earp, a system admin at a health care automation consulting company based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said there was no Mac revival.

"Out of the maybe 500 networks Ive worked on in the last decade, Ive never seen a Mac. None of my friends who work in the industry have either," he said.

After walking through his data center while waiting for an install to complete, he observed: "I couldnt find a single Apple product in the building. I honestly didnt even know Apple sold servers or network-based applications."

According to Earp, any optimism on the Mac front must be based on pitches from sales teams or venture capitalists with some back-room agenda.

However, a technical engineer at Cisco, who declined attribution, offered a different picture of Mac adoption in the enterprise. He said Ciscos IT department officially supports Windows, a version of Linux and Solaris.

"However, if you start attending meetings in any conference room within any Cisco building, you would begin to question just how official things are. There is a growing group of individuals, from sales to engineering to marketing that have abandoned Windows for good," he said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifIs Intels roadmap now Apples road? Click here to read more.

He said while Macs are officially discouraged, Cisco often allows its employees to buy a Mac instead of leasing a PC. Employees present a special circumstance to support the purchase of a Mac.

"All you need is to say the common sob story that Windows ate my e-mail or some project, and you pretty much get one. This is exactly what Outlook did to me by the way, and why I finally switched."

He said there were "visible productivity improvements" by Mac users over Windows users within organizations at the company. This was helping to drive switchers.

"The advantages to engineering is especially great. PC users are getting frustrated with Mac users as many engineering call flows, architectural diagrams, etc. are being whipped up in no time with [The Omni Groups] OmniGraffl.e [Microsoft Office] Visio is nowhere as fast to work with," he continued.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read what Microsofts manager for the Office System product line says about the new Office interface and future innovations.

Of course, theres a downside, he said. Since Ciscos IT doesnt support the Mac, users are on their own for support. For hardware, the engineer said most Mac backers were buying AppleCare and taking their machines over to the Genius Bar at the local Apple Store.

For the usual daily application and OS support within the organization, the companys Mac community has banded together, creating a wiki page on the best practices for the Cisco setting.

Next Page: Mac accommodation: What a difference a decade makes.