Can Macs conquer the enterprise? The time is ripe...

The field is wide open for a Macintosh insurrection on the business desktop. It could happen, but probably won't. Here's why.

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Geiger Bros. already has 25 people in its marketing group using Macs, and that number could increase, says Joe Marshall, business analyst at the Lewiston, Maine, promotional products company. While most of the firm's 300 personal computers remain on Windows, a few Macs do use Parallels Inc.'s Parallels Desktop for Mac virtualization software to allow access to Windows business applications, Marshall says.

Gains on the server side?

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The situation is a bit less clear on the server side.

Apple's constellation of server products -- Xserve, Leopard Server and Xsan -- are intended to service the small business and departmental islands of Macs in its core markets rather than corporate at large. Improvements in the operating system on the desktop and server products have been mostly consumer- and small business-oriented. Leopard Server, for example, focuses heavily on ease of setup for small business and offers a suite of workgroup-oriented tools.

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But Apple has beefed up some features that are important to corporate users. Integration problems with Microsoft's Active Directory -- a big sticking point that required third-party tools and work-arounds -- have been resolved in the Leopard release. Users can now update their own directory profiles, and digital signing is now supported, allaying the fears of security-minded IT folks.

Adding to its appeal with administrators is the fact that OS X, unlike Windows, is based on the Unix operating system and open standards such as Samba file and print services, the NFS file sharing protocol, RADIUS secure remote access and LDAP directory services.

"The biggest attraction for the Mac as a client machine is the stability of the Unix foundation for OS X as an operating system," says AWC's Frantz. And using Macs as clients on an OS X Server network offers several other benefits, he says, specifically in the areas of remote client administration and service, remote disk imaging and system configuration. Finally, improved communication tools like video iChat also make support easier, he says.

In his consulting practice, Edge still runs across a few lingering problems. "There's still no way to cluster file-sharing services, which is a biggie," Edge says, and he's had some issues with fail-overs in active/passive clustering configurations.

But on the whole, it's much easier to plug Macs into a corporate setting than it was just 12 months ago.

And it may be cheaper, too. On the server side, Apple has a licensing cost advantage over Windows. Apple's software licensing model was "a primary reason" why Frantz decided to standardize on Mac servers.

Apple licenses Leopard Server on a per server basis -- no client access licenses (CALs) are required to access file sharing, e-mail, chat, shared calendars and other basic features. (However, its management tool, Apple Remote Desktop, is sold either as a 10-concurrent-user or unlimited-user license). "The soft costs of CAL administration and tracking is also a factor," Frantz says, explaining that managing client access licenses can be a headache.

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Most likely operating system to deploy in place of Windows

Linda Albornoz

Source: King Research, November 2007, for KACE Networks Inc.

Hasta la Vista?

Could IT managers, facing a major Vista migration, be rethinking their commitment to Windows in favor of the Mac?

Although it's common for IT to be slow to adopt a new version of Windows, a recent survey of 961 IT professionals working in small, midsize and large companies by King Research -- commissioned by desktop management tool vendor KACE Networks Inc. -- shows that some organizations may be considering doing what was once unthinkable, abandoning Windows altogether rather than investing the time and money into a Vista migration.

More specifically, 44% of respondents said they would consider an alternative to a Vista migration. Of those, 28% said the Mac would be their first choice. Surprisingly, the results were similar whether respondents worked for large companies or smaller ones.

That doesn't mean a wholesale replacement of Windows PCs is coming -- the study didn't go into why users would consider Vista alternatives or how many machines they might migrate to an alternative operating system. But it does show that IT is at least thinking about the alternatives.

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