Macs rarely belong in the enterprise

For years, fans have told us that Macs are easier to use, result in less tech support, are more stable and have fewer virus issues than their Windows counterparts.  As such, some people believe, Macs should be the logical first choice when it comes to an enterprise deployment, especially since they can run Windows software.  I've worked in organizations with people who were very pro-Apple who pushed very hard to expand the Mac presence in the organization based on the reasoning above.

Although Macs do have their place, there are a lot of reasons that they have yet to supplant their Windows-based counterparts.  Before I get started, I will tell you that I like Macs; in fact, my home laptop is a MacBook and it goes absolutely everywhere with me and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Of course, I run both OS X and Windows XP on it, so it's not the 100% Apple experience.

So why has there not been a major Mac uptake in the enterprise?

Apple hardware is darn expensive.  Last year, we purchased well-equipped (2 GB RAM, 2 GHz processor, 160 GB hard drive, DVD burner) business line desktops from Dell, each with a 19" monitor.  The total cost per machine was less than $675.  That price included a 3 year onsite warranty.  A similarly configured Mac Mini, Apple's least expensive desktop offering lists at $924 without a monitor.  Say that Apple was willing to knock off 20%; that brings the price down to around $780 per machine plus a couple of hundred dollars for a monitor, so you're looking at about $1,000 per desktop.  Oh, yeah, that price doesn't include AppleCare.  For cost-conscious businesses, it's hard to ignore that $325 savings per machine!

Macs aren't really easier to use.  They're just different.  Sure, there are some things that are easier about Macintosh computers, but there are also some things that are easier to deal with on Windows computers.  In my organization, on a per capita basis, our Mac users are much needier from a support perspective than our Windows users.  To be fair, we're a very Microsoft-centric place, so there is the cross-platform issue to deal with, but we're not unlike most organizations out there.

Macs aren't really more stable than Windows desktops.  I've heard a lot of people say that "Macs don't blue screen."  Neither do Windows computers anymore.  Yes, there will be the occasional Windows desktop that bites the dust, but overall, it's really very. very rare to see a blue screen these days, particularly outside the primary image development process that takes place when a newbatch of computers arrives.  Drivers used to be the primary cause of blue screen errors, but enterprise grade desktops have stable hardware configurations and very good and stable drivers, thus negating the issue.  Where Macs do beat the heck out of their Windows counterparts is in image stability and hardware.  Apple closely controls the hardware that is allowed to be used whereas Microsoft has to support a much wider variety of devices and platforms.  This lack of hardware diversity makes it possible to bundle together everything that's needed for an image to work across multiple Macintosh devices.

It's a Windows world.  In the enterprise, almost all ERP client applications have Windows clients; very few have OS X clients.  Although many vendors continue to move to web-based clients to make software more client-agnostic, the full-featured clients remain mostly a Windows-only affair.  Mac OS X does ship with BootCamp, which allows you to boot your Mac into a Windows environment, but you still need to buy a Windows license.  Further, when you boot into Windows, you lose out on the perceived benefits of that Mac OS X platform.  There are other ways to run Windows software on a Mac (i.e. Parallels, VMware Fusion), but those solutions add to the cost of the system.  That said, if you absolutely must use Macs and need Windows programs, you can avoid this cost by using Sun's free VirtualBox virtualization platform.

On the other side of the coin, Macs are definitely less susceptible to viruses and other nasty infestations, but with the right software and policies in place, you can keep your Windows environment healthy, too.  The cost offset for virus software doesn't generally equate to enough to justify a wholesale changeover.

I'm certainly not trying to bash Macs here; as I said, I like the hardware and use one myself.  In fact, there are sometimes very good reasons that some people in your organization may want or need to use a Mac rather than a Windows PC; graphics designers often prefer Macs as do multimedia developers.  Further, if you're running a design shop of some kind and your entire talent pool is trained on Mac OS X, not using Macs may be a bad idea.  However, the old arguments that used to frame the Mac/Windows debate simply don't hold water anymore.  For me, from a business perspective, there is not enough value brought to the table (for most organizations) from the Mac platform to justify displacing Windows machines.

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