May 26, 2009, 9:10 AM — At support software company Bomgar, executives admit their products didn't support Macs very well just a few years ago. But that's been changing over the last 12 months, and last week Bomgar released the latest version of its appliance-based, remote desktop support software with beefed-up Mac features.
"Over the last year or two, vendors have had to make the Mac piece work. They've had to support and test it and put it through a full QA process," says Nathan McNeill, VP of product strategy at Bomgar. "No longer is baseline support enough."
It's high time Windows enterprise developers get serious about the Mac, Mac engineers say. Like it or not, the Mac's ranks are growing quickly inside corporations. The Enterprise Desktop Alliance, a consortium of Mac vendors, surveyed 300 IT managers earlier this year and found that more than half have already deployed more than 100 Macs. Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Jon Oltsik figures Macs have around a 5 percent penetration rate among companies that allow Macs in their environments.
More importantly, as the Mac moves beyond marketing departments and into the executive suite, user support expectations increase. "I recently heard this expression in the market: 5 percent equals 20 percent," Oltsik says. "The issue is that of that 5 percent penetration rate, a large portion are C-level folks. The PC support people say that because of the expectations of executives, providing Mac support occupies about 20 percent of their time."
Now throw in the main gripe among Mac engineers: Windows software vendors deliver poor Mac products and support. IT groups must use these inadequate Mac versions, which, in turn, lead to more executive complaints, says a Mac engineer at a hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The hospital had been managing PCs with LANDesk, a Windows desktop management software suite, says the engineer. When the number of Macs began to grow in the last 15 months, from 80 to nearly 180 earlier this year (and tracking to 230 by next year), the hospital turned on the Mac option in the Windows suite.
Problem solved? Not quite. The Mac reporting feature didn't report accurately at times, the engineer says, and other times not at all. Wrong RAM. Wrong processor type. No optical drives showing up on the report. Remote tools sometimes failed to connect.
"It's disingenuous when you say you have a Mac product that lacks the same Windows features," the Mac engineer says. Even worse, he says he's often treated like a second-class citizen when seeking support: "One guy said, 'I'll look into it when I get a hold of a Mac.'"
Bomgar's McNeil understands the problems vendors face when weighing investment in better Mac products and support. "Vendors are going to become competent to the extent it reflects their customer base," he says. "That was true of us as well."
Yet Bomgar has been on the frontlines of Mac support, says Chuck King, team leader of desktop deployment and maintenance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bomgar's client base is heavy in Mac stronghold industries such as media companies and universities, thus Bomgar has had greater incentive to build strong Mac solutions and support. (CEO Joel Bomgar says he figures that half of his customers use the Mac features in his flagship product.)
King and his team deploy several hundred Macs a year, and he invests in Mac training for his staff. But King says that in general, he acknowledges that Mac support is not necessarily the primary focus for Windows developers. When searching for a remote desktop solution two years ago, King says, "we struggled with the Mac piece, but we didn't see that problem with Bomgar."
King points to Bomgar's latest release, version 10.3, which he's currently considering, as an example of how Mac versions are improving. It gives support reps more hardware and network configuration details on a sickly Mac so that they can remotely dig deep into the system and, hopefully, troubleshoot the problem faster.