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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Still, AWC aside, Apple servers have made few inroads into larger organizations outside of serving Macs in traditional departmental niches. MIT has about 3,000 Macs on campus, but just a few isolated Apple servers. It mostly uses Dell hardware running Windows or Linux. "I don't see [Apple] taking over the data center anytime soon. There's a bias there. You go with what works" -- that is, with the server technologies that are already proven and working in the data center -- says Don Montabana, director of client support services at MIT.

Selling hard and fast

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With its server and desktop products, Apple is now in a good position to tempt corporations. And it's got something else going for it: an incredible amount of goodwill among rank and file computer users.

Apple is selling plenty of hardware to prove it. Not long ago its share of PC shipments in the U.S. hovered around 3%. How times change. In the third quarter of 2007, the Mac's share of PC shipments climbed to 6.9%, with year-over-year growth of 29%, according to IDC. (See Mac by the numbers.)

In the laptop space, which is steadily eating away at the desktop market, Apple is rushing ahead. In the same period, it ranked fourth in laptop shipments, with a 9.7% share in the third quarter and year-over-year growth of 43.6%.

To be sure, most of those machines did not ship to large businesses. "You have a really strong education market in the U.S., followed by a pretty good consumer market. The rest is pretty small," says IDC analyst David Daoud.

That said, success in the home and education markets is creating a grass-roots lobbying effort that is starting to hit some IT organizations from all sides.

More college grads are joining the corporate workforce with Mac experience -- and expectations -- in tow. At Georgetown University Law Center, nearly 50% of the college's 30,000 students are using Macs -- up from less than 1% just a few years ago, says CIO Pablo Molina. The same phenomenon is occurring at technical schools such as MIT, where Macs now represent 30% of all personal computers on campus, up from 20% last year.

"This incredible rise in the use of Macs by college students is going to put pressure on IT departments to support Macintosh PCs [in the workplace]," Molina predicts.

Both Bajarin and Edge say their corporate clients have been approached by new hires lobbying for Macs. Says Bajarin: "The younger kids who grew up on Macs are frustrated with the tools they're being given."

And it's not just Macs that are turning employees into Apple fans: About 5% of the Law Center faculty has purchased iPhones. "I find that number shocking. I've had to modify our e-mail system so they could hook into it," says Molina.

In some situations IT organizations also face pressure from the top to support Macs and even iPhones. "You now have executives who have cut their teeth on Macs and they're coming in at relatively high levels," Bajarin says.

The Mac's cachet extends even to influential IT professionals, from hackers to corporate IT consultants. Edge says the visibility of Macs at the annual DefCon hacking convention has increased noticeably in recent years, for example.

And in a December 2007 e-mail poll of 1,400 IT consultants at Deloitte Consulting, 45% said they own a Mac. "We have a whole new generation of very tech-savvy super users saying, 'No, we won't use that. I'm not going to take a giant step backward on technology to come work for you,'" says Doug Standley, principal and lead in Deloitte's technology innovation strategies group.

A few unresolved issues

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While this "consumerization of IT" is leading Apple into the corporate setting, albeit through the back door, in Smulders' opinion it's not enough to push most companies to deploy Macs more broadly. That's because, ultimately, the choice of personal computer is not a popularity contest but rather a business decision based on cold, hard logic.

"I don't believe we've gotten to the point where users are deciding," Smulders says.

Legacy concerns

Aside from cost, the primary reason that IT executives are keeping Macs out of the corporate setting is that they don't want to "break" the legacy environment, according to Standley. Deloitte's surveyed consultants estimate that 10% of its business clients are using Macs as a primary corporate tool, but if legacy issues were not a factor, perhaps 50% to 60% of that group would at least consider the Mac as the primary personal computing platform for general business use.

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