Over the years, Apple has earned a less-than-stellar reputation among purchasers of enterprise desktops. Macs were seen as overpriced to begin with. And Apple didn't offer huge discounts for bulk purchases, like the PC makers. Plus, Macs didn't come with the ecosystem of integrated productivity and management apps that are taken for granted in the Windows world.
But the latest numbers don't lie. Apple's U.S. market share for the quarter ended Sept. 30 jumped from 10.5% to 11.3%, according to IDC. And Apple's global Mac shipments increased by 20%. Gartner puts Apple's U.S. market share at 12.9%, with a 21.5% growth in PC shipments.
In its latest earnings report, Apple said Mac sales hit an all-time high of 4.9 million units, a 26% year-over-year increase. And according to a survey by Forrester Research, 22% of enterprises report the use of employee-owned Mac computers is growing significantly.
So, what is Apple doing differently? The answer, not surprisingly, is not much. Apple hasn't changed, but the world has.
The popularity of consumer-oriented devices like iPhones and iPads among traditional end users has created a sea change in the enterprise. Whereas enterprise IT managers once tried to keep a tight lid on new hardware accessing the network, the trend toward a new open attitude is described in two of the big buzzwords of the day: consumerization of IT and BYOD (bring your own device.)
Then there's the new generation of employees entering the workforce who are demanding computers that they're already familiar with - and that means Macs.
When it comes to applications, the concerns of the past don't apply as much anymore. Traditional Microsoft Office apps run just fine on the Mac these days. And with more apps being hosted in the cloud, whether the host computer is a PC or a Mac is becoming a non-issue.
According to Forrester analyst David Johnson, there are a couple of other reasons for the Mac surge: productivity and prestige.
"The corporate PC as a device is increasingly over-managed, creating very difficult-to-use systems for people, and impacting productivity," he says. "The length of time we were on Windows XP created a lot of frustration with end users."
XP has been around for 10 years, he adds, and 50% of companies are still running the aging operating system and dealing with all that comes with it - Blue Screens of Death, Patch Tuesdays, etc. Meanwhile, the latest Mac operating system is smooth, fast, user-friendly, stable and secure, he says.
Plus, the perception has shifted. At one time, if you walked into a meeting with a Windows laptop, you meant business. If you walked in with a Mac, you were less than serious. Today, that has totally changed.
"Power brokers don't want to show up to a meeting with a plastic laptop that sends the subliminal message that they aren't prosperous enough to afford something nice," Johnson says.
The big switch
Chicago-based IT services company Model Metrics began switching from PCs to Macs in 2007.
"What we found was that we would walk into a meeting, and open the Mac - and it's a conversation starter," says CMO Dave Dahlberg. "'Oh, those guys are different!' It's almost a part of our sales process. We're seeing the same thing with iPads to an even greater extent - you do the presentation on an iPad and it's a conversation starter."
Today, 174 of the company's 175 employees have Macs.
MacBooks are also more reliable than Windows PCs, he adds. "And, for us, meeting with clients every day, that's really important."
"Some companies are using it as a recruiting tool," Forrester's Johnson says. "Those kinds of stories are fairly common."
"They [Apple] have really made a name for themselves for ease of use," adds Apurva Mehta, director of client services and educational technologies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. "They have a cool factor to it, and the younger staff and faculty that come in are requesting Macs." In fact, he said, this was the first year that more faculty requested Macs when they were hired than PCs.
Today, out of about 800 faculty and staff, between 10% and 15% are using Mac computers, he says.
The younger generation finds them easier to use. "And the fact that Macs are not prone to virus attacks and trojan attacks and all those other security issues are helping them become more and more popular," he adds.
The growth of OS-neutral applications both inside and out of the enterprise, virtual desktops, and new integration technologies make it easier than ever to allow Macs full-fledged entry into the enterprise.
Tech argument: Macs vs. PCs
Henderson, Tenn.-based Freed-Hardeman University began switching to Macs four years ago, as a result of student demand. What helped the process was the university's long-term plan to move to an OS-neutral infrastructure.
"We thought, by centralizing on one OS [Windows], it would make things easier," says Greg Maples, the university's director of network operations. "But it wound up costing us more in the long run."
Being a Windows shop locked the organization into the Windows ecosystem, he says, and resulted in less flexibility, nimbleness and a loss of opportunities to innovate.
"For education, it's free, so it was a no brainer for us," he says. The university switched over its faculty and students, and not only saved money on the Exchange licenses, but also on support costs.
"All the support calls went away," he says. "I get a call a week now - and it's usually because of Outlook." He explained that some users still use Outlook clients to access Gmail instead of accessing it via the web interface.
Campus members are also doing more and more work in the cloud - using Google Docs, cloud storage, and other applications.
Some university staffers still use Microsoft Office, he says. "The mail merges, the export functions, the templates - there are definitely reasons to keep Office."
However, this might be the last year for a campus-wide Windows Office license, he says. "It may be cheaper to buy it outright for just a few users."
Meanwhile, most software vendors have already begun delivering applications via the Web, he adds.
"Once we got pretty good Internet access here, we quit buying software that needed to be installed on the desktop," he says.
Today, only a couple of applications still require a Windows machine, like the school registration system. Staff who need access to these applications, or who simply prefer to work in a Windows environment, can use a virtual Windows desktop provided by Desktone, headquartered in Boston.
Desktone offers a secure cloud-based Windows desktop, accessible via any computer or mobile device, on a per-user basis - no virtual machines or dedicated servers required.
"As time goes on, we'll move more and more things over to more user-friendly and accessible ways to connect," Maples says. "But Desktone allows us not to worry about that."
The university decided on a gradual migration, moving all incoming freshmen and a quarter of staff and faculty to Macs four years ago, and repeating the same process each successive year.
Today, almost all 2,000 students, with the exception of some graduate and fifth-year students, use Macs, as do almost all of the university's 500 employees.
One early problem was Active Directory integration. Apple's OS 10 will work with it, but not easily, and if the university were doing it over again, it would use Centrify, a vendor which specializes in integrating Macs into Windows networking environments. "We're actually looking at Centrify right now," Maples says. "Our biggest challenge now with the Mac is authentication, keeping account information synchronized and setting password policies."
Another challenge was managing user expectations. "You have to be careful when you make the switch not to say that it's going to be better - better is subjective," he says. "Some people weren't very happy with the changes ... and that was our stupidity because we thought everyone would like it."
The recent versions of the Apple operating system hook into Active Directory and Exchange and connect to file servers, says Aaron Freimark, IT director at New York-based Apple consultancy Tekserve. He is also the founder of EnterpriseIOS.com, an online community for IT administrators who have implemented Apple devices in their organizations.
"The baseline works, and is configured," he says. "But you often get a better experience with a third-party application. For example, the mail client that comes with the Mac works with Exchange, but it may not have all the features that someone wants."
"We make the Mac machine a security peer to the Windows machine," says Centrify's Macintosh Product Manager Lance McAndrew. According to McAndrew, few large organizations are monolithic environments. In addition to running Windows, most also run Unix, Linux and, now, Macs.
To comply with regulations and ensure security, companies need to make sure that employees can access the resources they need to do their jobs while providing access that is secure and trackable, he says.
RAND Corp., a think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., uses Centrify DirectControl to authenticate Mac and Linux computers with Windows Active Directory. Around 400 of the company's 2,000 employees use Macs.
"We're seeing a lot of companies trying to get in front of this," McAndrews says. "They're coming to us and saying, 'Right now employees can pick between an HP machine and a Dell machine when they come into the company, and we want a Mac to be one of the platforms they can pick.'"
In addition to Centrify, there are several other vendors that can help a company integrate Macs into the enterprise. They include the Casper Suite from JAMF Software, which works with Apple computers and mobile devices.
Absolute Manage, from Absolute Software, can manage both Macs and Windows in a single platform, Tekserve's Freimark says. On the open source side, DeployStudio and Puppet can also manage and configure Mac devices.
In addition, virtual machines such as Parallels or VMware Fusion can put a Windows desktop on a Mac - but at a cost, according to Forrester's Johnson. Virtual machines use up the Mac's resources and create distribution and management headaches for IT departments. As a result, they are better used as a stop-gap measure until the rest of the infrastructure catches up, he says.
At the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Mac users get Office 2011, the Adobe design suite, a lecture capture tool, access to the university's Exchange servers, and almost all the other functionality that Windows PCs have. Anything that's missing can be accessed through a virtual desktop, Mehta says.
"We're starting to see differences narrow," he says. "And we make sure that any new system we buy is Mac-compliant, because we know we have so many Mac users on campus."
At Model Metrics, the company began transitioning to cloud-based services at the same time it began the move to Macs. Although everyone still has Microsoft Office, the majority of work takes place in Google Apps. File backup and storage is also in the cloud, with Carbonite and various other cloud storage vendors, including Amazon S3. The primary content management system is Salesforce.com., Dahlberg says.
Employees who need a Windows environment for specific developer tools access them through a VMware partition, he adds.
Although Macs cost more than equivalent Windows computers, some companies are seeing a return on investment in terms of increased productivity.
Bently Holdings, a private real estate investment and management company in San Francisco, reports significant support savings. The company started moving away from Windows PCs to Macs five years ago and today 110 out of 123 employees use Macs.
"We're saving hundreds of thousands of dollars with our migration to Macs," says Brady Frey, the company's Art and IT director. First, the training time required for new employees has been reduced by over 75%. "The employees were used to a Mac environment at home, and going into Windows was hard and uncomfortable for them," he says. "It took four hours of training per employee. After switching to Macs, it was 45 minutes per employee."
Equipment upkeep costs were also lower, he adds. "With Windows devices, we had a high failure rate," he says. "We spent so much time with very obscure errors. Some people completely stopped using our audio visual equipment because of dealing with errors."
For example, the company typically holds three events a day as part of its business. Previously, that required more than an hour of setup time per event - time which has been reduced to just 15 minutes after switching to a Mac environment and iPad controllers. "Saving that three to five hours a day in maintenance alone has been a significant financial improvement," Frey says.
The company also saves $12,000 to $15,000 a month as a result of eliminating the use of outside companies for Windows support. "We used to average 28 support tickets a day," he says. "Now we average five."
To support the multi-device environment, the company uses Kerio Connect, an alternative to Microsoft Exchange that supports Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems as well as iPhones, iPads, Android and Windows Phone 7 mobile devices.
Looking ahead, it's clear that the trend toward Macs shows no sign of abating. According to Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, 92% of Fortune 500 are now testing or deploying iPads, as are 52% of Global 500 companies, while iPhones are being tested or deployed at 93% of the Fortune 500, and 60% of the Global 500.
And once users are on iPhones and iPads, Macs can't be far behind. For example, Newport Beach, Calif.-based private equity fund Kodiak Capital Group recently upgraded to new iPhone 4Gs - which came with a discount on Mac laptops.
As a result, the firm switched from PCs to Macs, says managing partner Ryan Hodson. "The learning curve has definitely been interesting, but in the long run I think we will all wonder why we ever used PCs," he says.
Korolov is a freelance business and technology writer in Massachusetts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.