A new day for Macs in the enterprise?

iPhone-loving workers disenchanted with corporate IT might love to ditch their PCs for Macs, but are we really on the cusp of greater enterprise adoption of Apple?

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone was ready for enterprise use, the announcement caused a stir that few of the world's iconic businessmen could match. It seemed that everyone from rank-and-file worker-bees to CEOs wanted to get their corporate applications served up on the hot new device. Why? This was Apple-a synonym for awe-inspiring design and coolness-the antithesis to stodgy old corporate technology that burns the eyes red and freezes computers blue.

But some Apple-watchers and evangelist IT practitioners who use Macs for business think the announcement runs deeper than the iPhone itself in its importance. Some believe it could usher in the era of a more enterprise-friendly Apple.

Such a paradigm shift, they argue, could serve as the final ingredient in the boiling cauldron being stirred by employees at the edge of organizations who have become dissatisfied with corporate technology, and who have turned to innovative options in the consumer space to meet their needs.

Some tall hurdles related to converting an enterprise from PCs to Macs, of course, have been around for years. Many corporate IT departments find themselves beholden to decisions made by predecessors during the 1990's, when PCs and the Microsoft Windows operating system seized a chokehold on the corporate market. Companies planned everything from back-end servers to client software based on a Microsoft framework, notes Roger Kay, an analyst with EndPoint Technologies.

Integrating Mac equipment and other Apple products into such an environment requires time and money. "Despite the hairiness of Microsoft software, most companies crave compatibility with it," Kay says. "They have these existing investments that they want to get use of."

But a move to Web-based software, where users need nothing but a browser to access their applications, could alleviate the IT hang-up on integration.

Employees have been leading this movement. Instead of using the corporate-sanctioned software on their workstations, many have gravitated to technologies such as wikis, blogs and social networks to collaborate on projects horizontally, without IT's help or blessing. In the CIO Consumer Technology survey, the 311 IT decision makers surveyed conceded that nearly 25 per cent of their employees use social networks for work purposes, while 21 per cent utilize wikis and another 17 per cent use blogs.

From a hardware perspective, Macs have increasingly become more people's brand of choice. Apple shipped 2.3 million Macs in the first quarter of 2008, which represented a 44 per cent unit growth for the product and helped Apple realize 47 per cent revenue growth, compared to the same quarter the year before.

But businesses' adoption of Macs and Apple software has still been sluggish, perhaps, in part, due to this being a low priority for Apple.

While Apple of course deals with businesses, and has a business team at some of its stores, it undoubtedly remains a consumer-oriented company, by the numbers. Its iPod claims around 70 per cent of the market share for MP3 players. Apple sold 22.1 million iPods in the first quarter of 2008. On average, the company says, an iPod has been sold every 1.7 seconds in the five-and-half-year life span of the product.

And evangelists who run Mac shops in small and midsize businesses say their experiences, not as dissimilar to those of large enterprises as you might believe, still demonstrate a mixed bag of results for those using Apple in the corporate setting.

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