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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While programs like Altiris are available that support both Windows and Mac OS X, Geiger Bros. isn't about to throw out SMS. So instead of having one tool to manage all machine updates, Marshall must use a second tool, Apple Remote Desktop, to help with Mac updates.

That may not be a big deal for small numbers of Macs, but it can quickly add to the complexity of managing larger environments, says Smulders.

Configuring Macs to support Windows also adds complexity, with two operating systems and possibly emulation software to support. While Boot Camp and virtualization software are a good interim solution for small groups of Mac users that need access to a few Windows applications, Georgetown's Molina says, he doesn't see that as a long-term strategy for larger populations of machines.

"It's not the cost of the software license, but the complexity of maintaining all of those environments" that's of concern, he explains. "I don't see that as a viable mainstream option. You either stay in Windows or you switch to Macs," he says.

No second source

Second sourcing gives the buyer competitive leverage and a second avenue for equipment and parts if the primary vendor is having trouble meeting demand -- something Apple has been noted for in the past. And Apple's forays into licensing its hardware to third parties -- first with the Mac and more recently with its iPod -- have not fared well.

Sacchi says having a second source is not a big deal with just a few Macs in one department. "But if somebody is thinking about a complete enterprise replacement, that would be a concern."

When deploying Macs at scale, IT can't afford to be held hostage to a single vendor's supply chain problems. "Compared to where they were five years ago, [Apple's] supply chain and manufacturing is much tighter," Bajarin says. But those improvements still might not be enough to allay the fears of corporate-level organizations.

MIT is experiencing problems right now. "Getting parts from Apple can be a very, very difficult process. It can take weeks," Montabana says. Currently, MIT is having trouble getting some hard drives and motherboards from Apple. Such problems, he says, have only gotten worse over the past few years. In contrast, Montabana's PC vendors deliver parts the next business day.

Service and support

Service and support are another hurdle. "You're transferring to a platform from a vendor that's not committed to supporting large enterprise needs. From what we've seen, the tools available and the support [to enact that change] are not enterprise-class," Smulders says.

On the support side of the equation, small and large companies with just a few Macs to support can find themselves caught in between Apple support offerings. Apple does offer enhanced support for larger customers. "There is an enterprise agreement where you pay $50,000 and you get stellar support, including a dedicated support guy," says Edge. "They really go all out."

But that kind of money may not fit into the budget of companies with just a few dozen Macs in the marketing department or that of smaller companies like sporting goods retailer Jax Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo., which runs its business on Mac hardware and software.

With just 80 Macs to support, company president Jim Quinlan says the firm is forced to stick with the less-expensive AppleCare plan rather than fork out for enhanced support.

"In my mind, [that] service level has dropped from what it used to be," says Quinlan. With no local Apple reseller, Jax must either ship equipment back to Apple or, if he needs it sooner, travel 70 miles to the nearest Apple store and then wait to speak with an Apple genius. "This whole 'if you want to talk to a genius you have to make an appointment' thing irritates me to no end," he says.

Frantz has also had some issues. Sometimes, he says, the left hand at Apple doesn't know what the right is doing. "We have had great support from the enterprise group within Apple. However, we usually have to go looking for that support, and in some cases, it is dependent on us to track down who the appropriate person or department is within Apple to get our questions answered.

Despite that, Frantz says he's always gotten the support he needed in the end, and remains committed to the Mac platform. "AWC has been able to accomplish many great things with our Apple project," he says. The Mac's lack of malware problems, ease of use and increased reliability translate into increased productivity. "We are definitely committed to [our Mac] strategy, and strongly believe it is the best technology decision for AWC," he says.

But most large businesses will probably remain on the sidelines for the foreseeable future. "I don't think you'll see a significant penetration into the traditional enterprise until Apple makes the strategic decision to go after that," says Bajarin.

Then again, Apple does like to play its cards close to the vest, and with the advent of Macworld next week, everything could change in an instant. It wouldn't be the first time that Steve Jobs has surprised the skeptics.

Editor's note: The response from an Apple spokesperson that appears on page 1 has been clarified at the company's request from the version that appeared in the original article.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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