Businesses double down on Apple; 68 percent say they'll add Macs in '09

Apple's having its best enterprise showing in 20 years, says analyst

The number of businesses planning to add Apple's Mac desktops and laptops to their corporate mix has doubled since earlier this year -- part of what an analyst calls the "consumerization" of IT.

In a just-published survey, 68 percent of some 700 companies polled said they will allow their end users to deploy Macs as their work systems in the next 12 months. That's exactly double the percentage of businesses that answered the same question eight months ago, said Laura DiDio, an analyst at Information Technology Intelligence Corp. (ITIC).

"And Apple hasn't done anything to actively promote this," DiDio said. Instead, faced by users "begging to use a Mac," IT managers are reacting to the "consumerization" of technology in the enterprise.

"It used to be that business computers were more powerful than the ones at home," DiDio noted, "but just the opposite is happening now. The computers at home are more powerful than those in the office." And users want that power where they work.

DiDio pointed to other factors that have sparked an uptick in Mac acceptance, ranging from more competitive pricing by Apple, the popularity of Apple's iPhone and the ability of Intel-based Macs to, with virtualization software from the likes of Parallels and VMware Inc., run Windows alongside Mac OS X. Approximately 30 percent of the IT professionals polled said that the Macs in their organizations are running Windows XP or Vista in virtual environments, up two percentage points since the earlier 2008 survey DiDio conducted when she was at Yankee Group Research Inc.

"After watching this for the last two years, I can say this is a steady, sustained trend," said DiDio, of the overall trend of Macs moving into business. "I see no sign of it abating. I'm not going to proclaim that Macs are going to sweep Windows away in a tidal wave, but this is clearly Apple's best showing in the enterprise in the last 20 years."

Speaking of Windows, DiDio said that while many of the IT managers polled were lukewarm on Vista, only a small number plan to dump Microsoft and switch to the Mac. "About 46 percent said that their companies were planning to skip Vista and move [from Windows XP] straight to Windows 7," DiDio said. Another 38 percent said they had no definite migration plans at the moment, while only 8 percent said that they were moving to Vista currently.

Windows 7, the successor to the perception-plagued Vista, may reach users in public beta as early as mid-January 2009.

However, some of those surveyed acknowledged that their businesses would leave Windows for either open-source alternatives, primarily Linux, or for the Mac OS. "Just one-half of 1 percent said they were in favor of Linux or open-source," said DiDio, "but 2.5 percent said they were going to switch to the Mac."

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DiDio continues to be impressed with the Mac's infiltration of the enterprise, and repeated her contention of last summer that in many cases, the numbers of Macs in a company is significant, not just one or two here and there. "Nearly a quarter said that they have more than 50 Macs," said DiDio. "At that point, you have to say 'that's traction for the Mac'."

But not all is rosy ahead for Macs in business, she warned. "As we see more Macs creep into the enterprise, you get some push-back from IT managers. They're saying, 'As we get a significant number of Macs, we need better network management tools, we need enterprise-grade technical support.'

"They can't have people going to the mall [and the Apple store there] to get technical support," DiDio argued.

Apple will need to make a decision soon, said DiDio, whether to explicitly market its machines to business, or continue its hands-off attitude. "They've been taking a wait-and-see approach this year, and not publicly said what their strategy is going to be, or if they even have a strategy," she said.

Elsewhere in her survey results, DiDio reported that nearly half of the IT managers said that they planned to increase integration with other Apple consumer-oriented products, including the iPhone.

"Apple has always been considered a 'cool' company, what with its iPod and iPhone," said DiDio. "But at the same time, this move [into enterprises] is not just a coincidence. Apple has been very vocal about things like the Safari browser and vocal about advanced features and functions of the Mac OS that matter to business, like desktop search and automatic backup.

"I think this is just the cusp of this trend," she concluded.