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Macs in the Enterprise: Top Ten Assumptions, Myths, and Misconceptions

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Once upon a time, the idea of Macs being deployed wide-scale in enterprise environments and workplaces was considered almost laughable. Today, the facts about supporting Macs in the enterprise can be shrouded by outdated facts, prejudices, and other assumptions. In this article, multi-platform consultant Ryan Faas (who has lived the life of both a Windows and Mac sysadmin) examines the top ten assumptions about Macs in the enterprise, exposing the myths and facts.

For most people, when they hear the name Apple, they think of consumer-oriented products such as the iPod and iPhone or of design professionals and educators using Macs. Most people don’t immediately associated Macs (or Apple) with major business or enterprise environments. And yet, a recent survey by Yankee Group Research Inc. found that 80 percent of businesses today use Macs in some way (nearly double the 47 percent reported from a similar survey performed two years earlier).

That trend highlights one of the problems for IT managers and professionals when it comes to looking at Apple. On one hand, Apple is a consumer-oriented company that produces gadgets. At the same time, it is a computing company that produces high-quality machines, its own operating system, and even its own server platform that can mesh easily in many environments. The picture is made even murkier when you consider Apple’s long history, which at one point centered on proprietary technologies (as opposed to its more recent adoption of open standards and open source technologies). To help make sense of the facts, this article presents the ten most common myths and misconceptions about Macs in the enterprise (as well as some accurate facts).

Lack of Business and Office Software Tools

One major reason to rule out Macs from consideration for many organizations has always been the belief that there simply aren’t any business-related tools available to Macs. In fact, this belief is one of the most long-held about Macs, and with some good reason. For many years, a limited selection of business tools was available on the platform.

Today, however, while the selection business tools for Mac OS X might be more modest than it is for Windows, there are a growing number of tools that range from office suites (including Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 that provides Mac users with versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage—a personal information manager similar to Outlook—with complete support for Office 2007 file formats) to accounting solutions from Intuit and MYOB (among other vendors) that run the gamut of small business to large-scale client/server financial management tools, to project management solutions. There are also a number of tools aimed at specific industries such as law offices or medical practices. In many cases, these tools are available in Mac and Windows versions, allowing full deployment in multi-platform environments and typically offering the same range of features as Windows business tools.

It is true, however, that some business tools aren’t available or don’t offer a complete feature set for Mac users. This is particularly true for customized solutions and for several client/server tools including some accounting products and information management tools (such as those used by HR departments, school offices, or for inventory management). It is interesting to note that a number of such tools are increasingly moving to web-based functionality, both for easier maintenance and to provide a broader spectrum of possible clients (which could include older PCs, Macs, and mobile devices).

Overall, this belief still has some merit in many situations. But, how much merit really depends on the tools involved and the needs that they are serving. As Mac OS X continues to gain market share (and particularly as small businesses adopt Macs—something that is happening at an increasing pace), a surprising array of business tools are becoming available. As a result, this can no longer stand as a universal belief.

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