At last week’s FutureNet conference I noticed something strange, a considerable percentage of the attendees had Mac laptops instead of the standard-issue PC that is commonplace in the enterprise. Off-hand, I’d bet at least 20% of the laptops I saw featured an Apple logo on their cover. Is the halo effect entering the enterprise? And if so, what does that mean for collaboration plans?
The rumors of Apple’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Apple’s 1Q07 sales of Mac computers totaled just over 1.5 million machines, a growth of 36% over a year ago. Apple’s overall share of the PC market is still low, at just over 6% in the U.S., but it is growing, and perhaps more importantly, it is growing among the techies – the same folks most likely to embrace Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies.
FutureNet was a geek-fest, targeted to enterprise and service provider IP engineers. Many of those people have moved to the Mac because of its underlying Unix core, and a general resentment of all things Microsoft. But interest in Mac isn’t confined to the geek-set. In a recent eWeek article an un-attributed Cisco employee noted a significant growth of Macs’ and not just among the techies, but even within sales and marketing functions. A recent ComputerWorld article also makes the case for Mac in the enterprise and notes how the increasing presence of Mac in the home is causing individuals to wonder why they can’t have one at work, where they spend far more of their time with their PC.
And just last week, Sun announced it was going to restart OpenOffice to the Mac after stopping development in 2003. Sun’s Philipp Lohman noted in his blog that they are seeing a growing community of Mac users.
So if Macs are slowly entering the enterprise domain, what does this mean for collaboration applications? Enterprises have several choices. The first is to lock out the Mac, forcing everyone to use Windows, but this isn’t an option for most organizations, and it becomes less of a defendable option when senior level people in the organization start asking for Macs after experience them at home.
Absent the monolithic desktop option, enterprises can offer two tiers of support. Windows users get Windows-native applications while Mac users are relegated to Java-based versions if available, and often with limited functionality.
Alternatively, Mac users on Intel platforms can run Windows applications at near native speeds using emulators such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion (currently in beta), but of course this requires purchase, installation and management of a legal copy of Windows on the Mac (along with anti-virus and anti-spyware software), which eliminates much of the benefit of having a Mac in the first place and adds significantly to the cost.
Or finally, enterprises can mandate applications that support Mac and Windows machines equally. Perhaps this will lead to more interest in web-based and virtual applications which are dependent on the browser, not the underlying operating system.
Whichever route you go, the point here is to be aware that the PC landscape is increasingly less monolithic. Macs are here, and the trends indicate their numbers are growing. Consider the implications of a growing cadre of Mac users on your collaboration and communications application plans. (And for those of you considering introducing Mac into your enterprise, check out the Mac conversion blog at http://webjedi.net/ for the good, bad and ugly).