Reversal of Fortune
Only a few years ago, many enterprises sought to rid themselves of Macs and other "nonstandard" end-user systems to reap the benefits of simplified purchasing and support.
Maintaining multiple end-user environments historically has meant testing applications for compatibility on each platform, purchasing multiple sets of management tools and hiring administrative staff with skills on each platform. The benefits of a homogeneous environment often appeared so self-evident that the trend to a single environment-typically Windows-appeared to be irreversible, leaving the Macintosh to occupy a tiny niche in corporate graphics departments.
Now, however, there's a trend in the other direction. And the willingness to embrace multiplatform end-user environments-the Mac specifically-is fed by several factors: lower Macintosh prices, the wave of enthusiasm surrounding Apple's consumer products and disenchantment with Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system.
"People are coming in and asking their IT manager if they may use their home systems as their corporate desktops. I think that's how it started," said Laura DiDio, principal at Information Technology Intelligence, a research firm in Concord, Mass.
The popularity of the iPod and the iPhone also contributed. "Apple caught the wave, and they floated in on that tide," said O'Donnell. "The success of the iPod and the iPhone has made people look to that [Macintosh] user interface as a viable alternative. That's the primary reason. People see that their kids' iPod and iPhone and computer work well. And all their friends hate Vista."
Enthusiasm for the Macintosh is nothing new, but it has always been tempered by higher cost. Customers have historically paid a premium for the privilege of being a Macintosh user, a toll that most corporations-especially those with large desktop and laptop populations-have sought to avoid.
Now, thanks in large part to Apple's decision several years ago to build its systems on top of Intel microprocessors, that price differential is declining to the point where it is in many cases no longer an obstacle to adoption.
Even so, the decision to allow the Macintosh into the enterprise on an equal footing with incumbent Windows PCs is still a rarity, according to research firm IDC.
Apple's U.S. market share in 2008 was 5.8 percent, up from 4.24 percent in 2005. But in the business market alone, minus educational and government accounts where Apple is historically strong, Apple market share was still a paltry 1.44 percent in 2008, up from 1.18 percent in 2005.
Still, IDC analyst Doug Bell believes small and midsize businesses in particular are favorably inclined toward the Mac. "The growth is there, and we don't see it slowing down any time soon," said Bell.
Research conducted by ITIC and Sunbelt Software revealed that 77 percent of organizations have at least one Mac. The research also uncovered a remarkable willingness in recent months to allow the Mac a place at the corporate table. In the spring of 2008, an ITIC/Sunbelt survey found that 34 percent of respondents said they're willing to accept the Macintosh in the enterprise. In December, 68 percent answered the same question affirmatively.
"It is a sustained trend," said Information Technology Intelligence's DiDio. "I've been tracking it for a good three years. I don't want to overstate or understate. There will not be a tidal wave of Macs replacing Windows, but this is the strongest foray that Apple has had in the enterprise since 1988."