Skip to comments.Why 'no Macs' is no longer a defensible IT strategy
Posted on 04/22/2008 1:45:14 AM PDT by Swordmaker
More users are demanding Macs in the enterprise. Thanks to key computing shifts, supporting their appetite for Apple is now a straightforward option for IT
Once confined to marketing departments and media companies, the Mac is spilling over into a wider array of business environments, thanks to the confluence of a number of computing trends, not the least among them a rising tide of end-user affinity for the Apple experience.
Luckily for IT, many of those same trends are making it easier for tech departments to say yes to the Mac by facilitating IT's ability to provide enterprise-grade Mac management and support.
"We're seeing more requests outside of creative services to switch to Macs from PCs," notes David Plavin, operations manager for Mac systems engineering at the U.S. IT division of Publicis Groupe, a global advertising conglomerate. There are so many requests that Plavin now supports 2,500 Macs across the U.S. -- nearly a quarter of all Publicis' U.S. PCs.
And Plavin is less of an anomaly than you might think. Buoyed by increased interest in the consumer arena, Macs are cropping up in more and more organizations, in large part because end-users are pushing for them.
According to NPD Research, Apple's share of the retail market has climbed to 14 percent as of February 2008. Gartner and IDC report that the Mac's share in the U.S. as of March 31 was 6.6 percent. Alongside that home-based shift from PC to Mac is a significant uptake for Apple among businesses, as Forrester estimates organizational Mac adoption tripled last year to 4.2 percent, mainly on the backs of enthusiasts seeking approval for Apple's silver boxes in small workgroups.
[ Discover the pros -- and cons -- of the Mac in business in our special report. And become a Mac pro through Tom Yager's Enterprise Mac blog and InfoWorld's Enterprise Mac newsletter. ]
Perhaps a better barometer of the trend is the effect increased Mac sales are having at outsourcing firms, which have traditionally been reluctant to support the platform due to a perceived lack of market in the past.
Centerbeam, a Windows management outsourcer for midsize businesses, is one such outsourcer eyeing the possibility of extending its services to cover the Mac, says Karen Hayward, Centerbeam's executive vice president. Security firm Kapersky Labs has already created a Mac version of its anti-virus software for release should Mac growth continue (and the Mac thus finds itself prey to more hackers), while Boingo Wireless, a Wi-Fi hotspot federator, is developing a Mac client to allow Mac users to tap into the Boingo network.
Couple this increasing attention to services with the falling away of another knock on the Mac, price, and you can see why even the federal government -- which has pockets of Mac users in a diverse set of agencies, including NASA, the U.S. Army, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology -- is prepping for increased use of Macs in business environments, having put together an official guide to implementing Mac security to conform to federal requirements.
After all, as Publicis' Plavin notes, Macs -- which cost the same as equivalently configured business-class PCs -- are cheaper to support because they are easier to support. And when it comes to diverting IT resources toward competitive advantage, doesn't ease of support sound compelling?
What has changed to make the Mac fit better
IT can embrace that Mac momentum, not just tolerate it, thanks to several shifts in computing that make the Mac a better enterprise fit than in the past -- first and foremost being a rising threat to Microsoft's other mainstay in the enterprise desktop environment, Internet Explorer.
Firefox, which has risen in popularity to account for 16.8 percent of browser use on the Web, according to Net Applications, as of December 2007, has broken IE's stranglehold on Internet app delivery, which it had maintained through ActiveX controls. Because Microsoft never released a version of IE for Mac OS X, Mac users were frozen out of ActiveX-based Web sites, making many SaaS (software as a service) offerings and enterprise-app Web clients off limits to the Mac.
[ Discover how to make Apple's other platform, the iPhone, fit in your business as well. ]
But to ensure operability on Firefox, developers had to configure their wares to support Java instead of or in addition to ActiveX -- with Mac gaining compatibility as a client at the same time.
WebEx is one of the more notorious examples of this switch. The popular Web conferencing tool became fully Mac-compatible only last month, as new owner Cisco Systems decided to abandon an ActiveX-only deployment strategy and add both Java and Mac-client options. (Until then, ReadyTalk and Adobe Connect were two of the few Mac-friendly Web conferencing tools, notes Peter Lincoln, IT director at temp-staff agency Aquent.)
Of course, not everyone is hip to the Java-based Firefox push. Many of MSN's excellent tools require Microsoft's browser due to the use of ActiveX, as do the support tools at a variety of companies with heterogeneous customers, including Seagate and AT&T.
Still, many other vendors have avoided ActiveX dependency and the customer exclusion that results. Those options have driven vendor choices in environments where heterogeneity is the norm, such as at college campuses. Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia, for example, chose Juniper Networks' wireless VPN tool mainly because it didn't require a client on user devices, nor limit itself to ActiveX for on-the-fly client provisioning, which would have excluded the large number of Macs that students and faculty use on campus, says CIO Bill Gruzka.
The rise of Web-based computing
Another trend facilitating Mac use in business is the increased enterprise dependecy on SaaS, wherein a diverse array of applications -- from sales-force automation through supply-chain coordination -- is delivered through the browser. Most SaaS applications have not relied on ActiveX, given SaaS' inherent goal of making apps available to anyone, anywhere. This push toward platform agnosticism translates to the use of standards, letting the Mac right in. Ted Elliott, CEO of recruiting software provider Jobscience, says he has noted a rise in Mac customers now that Jobscience has moved to the SaaS model -- customers his Salesforce.com-based platform supports out of the box.
Beyond Firefox and SaaS, many enterprise app developers have adopted the Web as a portal to their apps, following the strong Web-portal drive of the late 1990s.
"The trend in the enterprise is to Web-enabled apps," notes Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. Thus, a Mac user can access Oracle or SAP ERP apps over the Web, regardless of whether there is a Mac-specific client available. Even Microsoft takes this approach to provide Mac compatibility in its SharePoint collaboration environment, which its Mac Office tools don't directly support. (More on Microsoft later.)
Mac-heavy organizations tend toward Web-based apps rather than packaged ones because of Mac compatibility issues, says IT director Lincoln. That's precisely what happened at his company, Aquent. Almost everything is hosted or available as a SaaS application, including sales-force management, ERP, Web conferencing, and anti-malware apps. Aquent's packaged apps are largely limited to Office, e-mail clients, and Web browsers.
Many mainstay, client-installed business apps -- Microsoft Office, IBM's Lotus Notes, Intuit QuickBooks, and the open source EnterpriseDB, for example -- come in mostly compatible Mac versions. And, of course, creative apps such as Adobe Creative Suite and QuarkXPress have long been cross-platform. But many of these, especially enterprise apps, "are late on the Mac and aren't as elegant as their Windows versions," says analyst Gottheil.
Compatibility: Physical and virtual
The rise of virutalization, as well as Apple's shift toward standardized PC components, has also helped pave the way for Mac use in business.
First Parallels Desktop, then EMC's VMware Fusion, enabled Apple's Intel-based Macs to run honest-to-goodness Windows, not just in a separate boot volume (Apple offered that capability a couple years ago with its free BootCamp utility) but within the Mac OS environment. Users can now run Windows-only apps in the Mac OS, or in a separate window if they prefer, with cut-and-paste, shared directories, and shared hardware access. Armed with virtual machines such as these, Mac users can access the full array of applications available to their Windows-based brethren.
And thanks to the Mac's move to standard PC components, such as Intel processors, USB ports, Ethernet ports, and 802.11 wireless capabilities, such compatibility uses are falling by the wayside. As late as the mid-1990s, Macs included a series of proprietary connections, such as LocalTalk and ADB, and tapped SCSI drive interface technology found only on high-performance PCs. This hardware divide complicated not only IT work but also application development. Most of these hardware issues have been rectified, leaving just a few special keyboard keys to map between Windows and Mac OS when developing cross-platform apps.
Managing Macs in the enterprise
If you concede that your Mac users can run any software they need, either directly or via a VM, you may raise an old IT canard: manageability.
It may surprise you that Mac OS X Server and the separate Apple Remote Desktop software have for a decade facilitated Mac management, providing functionality akin to any Windows-oriented management tool. Developed for Apple's education market, these tools allow you to manage OS updates and app installations and upgrades. With Apple's Automator tool, you can automate much of the management workflows, essentially by creating executable scripts. You can also configure your Macs to boot into a network volume, to cope with drive failure, or to provide visiting employees or guests a nonlocal copy of the OS.
Apple Remote Desktop also allows you to control a user's PC for troubleshooting and technical support, as well as inventory the Macs. And Apple doesn't charge a per-client license for the software, just $500 per copy installed on your administrators' Macs, supporting an unlimited number of clients. (You can also manage Windows and Linux clients using Apple Remote Desktop's VNC support.)
If you don't want an Apple-owned tool, consider FileWave's cross-platform management tools, recommends Publicis' Plavin. Or the cross-platform Client Management Suite from Symantec's Altiris unit, suggests Aquent's Lincoln.
For managing users, access control, and related security policies, Mac OS X Server's Open Directory works with Microsoft's ActiveDirectory, so you can apply ActiveDirectory permissions to and enforce policies on your Mac users and Mac-based file shares from ActiveDirectory. Or you can manage them from OpenDirectory, such as when you have a separate Mac workgroup whose initial policies you want to inherit from ActiveDirectory but then customize for that workgroup in Open Directory. Apple says it supports every one of Microsoft's ActiveDirectory services.
Galen Gruman is executive editor of InfoWorld.
The IT department where I work won’t support or allow Macs or Linux machines for the simple reason that they can’t control them. This is one of those paranoid locked-down shops where they bind everyone up so tight they need a tech to turn the page as they’re reading.
Mass Global Policy’s, SMS, Cisco Draconian firewall, They take state of the science hardware and by the time they are finished, 12-15 minute boot times are common.
They won’t allow Macs because they don’t understand them...
You need a new IT dept. :-) I'm a windows user, and our environment is 100% Windows. If I had 12-15 minute boot times - anywhere I've worked - my boss would be looking to put my head on his desk.
I *do* see a need for mixed environments in some cases, but by and large...Mac vs PC is just a matter of personal preference. Outside of art/graphics/etc, it's hard to make a business case for Macs.
More to the point, in all of the mixed environments that I've worked in the past, Macs generated a dispropotionately huge percentage of the tickets. We're talking 2% of the organization's computers generating 10% of the tickets. Not sure if it's their design, or the fact that people think they can use them like a home system...and break them more often.
...waiting to be called vile names by Mac folks....
With IE8 and forthcoming versions of IE, you’re pretty much going to have to write to W3C anyway.
Rush Limbaugh and President George W. Bush are effete (learn to spell, or get a Mac with a real spell checker) liberal snobs now?
I may buy a Mac someday, but only because Microsoft has crossed over my threshold of tolerance for their antics. I hate being bullied, I hate their arrogance, I hate Vista and I hate having to learn a new interface every time that M$ issues a new OS. Can’t they tweak under the hood without redesigning the dashboard? BTW, I am typing this from a Ubuntu Linux box.
“Actually, Internet Explorer was available for Mac OS X for a while, without much support for ActiveX. Nobody misses it today. “
I do. I miss the hell out of IE. Both me and my spouse have jobs and businesses that require the use of IE. I have VMware and parallels on all my Macs. It sucks. I really miss IE support for Macs - big time. And it is my bone to pick with AAPL.
“With IE8 and forthcoming versions of IE, youre pretty much going to have to write to W3C anyway.”
But not ActiveX and those insidious little tests that some commercial websites put in by their windows robots to screw with the minds of non-believers.
At this stage, what's good for Mac is good for Linux -- any move toward making Web-based apps "browser agnostic," to use the term in the article, opens up possibilities for Linux, other *ixen, PDAs, cell phones, and new stuff like gOS.
Virtualization on the desktop is great, but server-level virtualization has been around for quite a while -- Citrix, for example. Running a virtual machine on a Citrix server and the client on a Mac is a great solution for Mac or Linux users who only occasionally need to use Windows -- it's easier and cheaper to support than Windows on each desktop, and folks love their Macs.
Name one thing you can do on your PC that I can't do on my "toy." Other than chase down spyware.
AAPL didn't develop IE for Mac, and AAPL didn't pull the plug on it.
The new version of Photoshop sgnificantly reduces art flaking.
The old version of IE for Mac apparently still works on the latest version of Mac OS X - but since it was designed for PowerPC processors, it must run with Rosetta emulation on Intel-based Macs.
No, it isn't. Some tools are better than other tools.
“AAPL didn’t develop IE for Mac, and AAPL didn’t pull the plug on it.”
But AAPL could 1) work a deal with MSFT; 2) be much more active in dealing with incompatibility issues.
But this still does not defeat the concept that IE is needed by a lot of people and a real glitch in using Macs for some people.
“The old version of IE for Mac apparently still works on the latest version of Mac OS X - but since it was designed for PowerPC processors, it must run with Rosetta emulation on Intel-based Macs.”
Completely misses the point and states the obvious. Still the biggest problem for AAPL is IE specific websites that have kept up with IE releases.
My point is that IE6/7 is necesary tool for many people to do their jobs and one reason users should be careful before committing to Macs. I know, I know you can run Windows in a VMs and I do, but that is somewhat difficult for some people. Those that Macs are specifically, otherwise perfect for.
AAPL needs to put some more resources on this.
Who’s to say?
Unfortunately, there is not much that Apple can do about it beyond enabling Windows to run on Macs. ActiveX will not be supported on Mac OS X and Safari.
Ask any craftsman if he could do his job as well with tools bought in the cut rate consumer market or does he buy the best, often spending top dollar?
I just talked to a friend who showed me his brand new $150 carpenter's hammer... and it was by far better balanced than any hammer I have ever owned... and I have bought some top brands in my life.
Does a Chef use knives bought at the Dollar Tree Store or does he spend upwards of a thousand dollars for knives that will serve him well for a career. Both are the same tool and they may even look exactly the same... but there IS a distinct difference and the Chef can instantly which is better.
In the instance of which is the better tool between Macs and PCs, "who's to say" can only be those people who have intimately used both. Generally, that means only Mac owners. Most PC owners have never even touched a Mac, yet Mac users have generally been PC users who switched to the Mac for good and well considered reasons after using Windows PCs for years either at work or at home and getting fed up. PC only users can only relate to their limited experiences with Windows... while Mac users have a greater experience to use when making a determination as to which is better.
Interestingly, I have never seen a Mac user write "It's only a tool" in any forum... that usually comes from people using Windows PCs for work. ;^)>
Yeah, I'm sure MSFT would be reeeeeeeeeeeal accommodating. I mean, all you're asking them to do is devote development resources into a browser it gives away for free that runs on a competing platform.
They wouldn't rake Apple over the coals, would they? Naah. We all know how principled, fair and forgiving Microsoft has historically been with other companies.
2) be much more active in dealing with incompatibility issues.
There is nothing Apple can do to stop Microsoft from introducing proprietary, non-standards-compliant technology in its browser. There will never be ActiveX for Mac or Linux or other OSen, because it's one of the shrinking number of hooks Microsoft has to keep people on Windows.
Apple is not to blame for Microsoft's inability to play well with others. Apple is not responsible for lazy Web developers who use whatever crap Microsoft throws over the wall, no matter whether it drives away customers, and no matter how many gaping security holes it opens.
But this still does not defeat the concept that IE is needed by a lot of people and a real glitch in using Macs for some people.
I'm sorry that you're stuck using Web-based applications that were created by idiots. That's the crux of the issue, and that's who you should be complaining to.
Creating a Web site for one browser on one platform is, and has always been, bad form. But as long as some Web developers are too lazy to build cross-platform sites, you're stuck with Windows. Sorry, but that's not Apple's fault, and in making it easy to run Windows on a Mac, Apple has done all it legally can.
As one of the flaky types in the “art” department (who by the way probably makes more money than you do) the reason “why ‘no Macs’ is no longer a defensible IT strategy” is because it was NEVER defensible.
The usual argument is “security.” True enough. IT fears Macs because we don’t need them the way PC users do.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.