Apple is finally making serious inroads into corporate networks. The Macintosh is no longer viewed as an arts and crafts project. Meanwhile, Microsoft is under increasing pressure to respond to the criticism that Windows Vista has endured.
Windows is growing old. Vista is a near disaster. Microsoft is getting beat up badly by Apple’s television advertising.
Switching computer platforms is never simple but this may be the right time to consider it.
Apple is widely viewed as a consumer electronics company. Their business strength has been in education, marketing departments and graphics design. Yet, they offer a range of server products anchored by the Xserve file server and the Xsan storage area network. These are aimed at small businesses and departmental workgroups.
Macs are easy to use and standards compliant. They are built on Unix and support open standards such as Samba file and print services, NFS file sharing, RADIUS access, LDAP authentication, and even Microsoft Active Directory. Newer Intel-based Macs can also boot Windows and run it natively if the need arises.
Macs are generally viewed as being more expensive than Windows PCs but that is not necessarily true. Apple focuses on high-performance, value-added configurations. When you compare similarly equipped systems, costs are comparable. Macs may be a good fit for users needing fast machines.
The major barriers to Mac adoption in the enterprise are support for legacy applications, introduction of another computing platform, and reliance upon a single source for hardware components. The complexity of these issues varies from one organization to another but solutions are available.
Concerns about legacy applications are fading as Web-based technologies and desktop virtualization gain ground. Using a browser to interact with legacy systems makes the desktop platform irrelevant. Virtualization tools like Citrix and VMware make it possible to run multiple operating systems on a single machine so you can always revert to Windows, if needed.
Supporting another computing platform requires training. However, any major transition, such as migrating to Vista, requires some amount of training.
Relying on Apple exclusively to supply key hardware components is a concern. Apple likes to maintain tight control over its systems. That control has been weakening over time but Apple needs to do more to open its systems to third-party suppliers.
Migrating to Macs is not an all or nothing proposition. Most companies would be best served by integrating Macs into portions of their environments. Start with workgroups who need high-performance systems such as in graphics design and video creation. Other starting points include Website design, engineering, training, and IT teams.
Another area where Macs excel is mobility. Executives and sales people who travel frequently may benefit from the small form factors that Apple offers.
A successful transition requires a sequence of phases such as assessing, testing, piloting and deploying. Simply buying a Mac for anyone who needs or wants one is asking for trouble unless their needs are very limited. Some people have both a Mac and a Windows PC but this is obviously cost prohibitive.
Begin by deciding on the target workgroup. Make a list of the job functions they perform and the software they use. Invite Apple’s enterprise team in for a discussion and demo of their products and capabilities.
Determine where the gaps are. Most Windows software has a Mac equivalent. If not, you will need to explore other software tools or consider desktop virtualization.
Offer Macs to a few power users. These folks should have good computer skills and be interested in trying something new. Provide training to both end users and IT. Let them know that problems are to be expected. Their job is to help pave the way for others.
Keep a record of the problems encountered and their resolutions or work-arounds. These findings will be critical in making a final business decision on Mac adoption.
If you decide to move ahead, deploy Mac computers to a larger group. How many depends on the size of your target group. Deploying to several dozen users is okay. Deploying to several hundred is not. Less computer-savvy users will need additional training and support that was not evident among power users. Continue to expand the deployment and gather feedback. You are now on your way to a mixed environment of Macs and PCs. Most companies will not make a complete switch. They will provide the platform that best meets the user’s needs.
As Apple grows its consumer business, there will be increasing pressure on corporations to adopt the Mac. Some of this pressure will come from recent college graduates, many of whom are Mac users. They will want to continue using Macs when entering the workforce.
Macs are generally more stable and virus-resistant than Windows. They are easier to use and built on open standards. Maybe it is time to test the barriers to Mac adoption in your company.
Vin D'Amico is president of Damicon LLC. He specializes in freelance technical writing, disaster response planning, and network security management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.damicon.com.