Macs in the Enterprise

Debunking Mac Myths Is Not the Way to Get Apple in the Enterprise

- 2008.08.06 - Tip Jar

In a recent article at InformIT, author Ryan Faas took the time to go about debunking his top ten myths about Macs and why they're not suitable for the enterprise, by which he means large-scale business. I commend him for his work and generally agree - Macs are as ready as any other Unix workstation for the enterprise, be it in the server room, the engineer's workstation, or the secretary's desk.

Unfortunately, debunking these myths won't do a thing to help Macs become more integrated into the business world. No, those who come to understand the benefits of using Macs, regardless of what portion of the operation they would join, tend not to be the ones that you need to convince - and the ones who need to be convinced have different reasons for not choosing Macs.

The Myths

With regards to the availability of software, it's true that it is getting broader. You can find implementations of everything from office suites to CRM packages to development environments. But the problem has never been one of a lack of appropriate software so much as a lack of the exact software package that the business has decided to standardize upon. If it were simple enough to just have an option, some user-friendly distribution of Linux would have eaten Windows' lunch long ago.

But OpenOffice and Eclipse and MySQL, no matter how good they are as office suite, programming environment, and SQL database, do not serve as one-to-one replacements for Microsoft Office, Visual Studio, and Microsoft SQL Server - at least not in the eyes of the folks who make the decisions and write the checks.

No, an array of fantastic software packages is not enough against an entrenched enemy whose sales force has convinced a large number of people that there is no replacement for their specific products.

Faas goes on to suggest that it's not just "creative types" who want Macs, a fact that I think we can all get behind. It's obvious from the sales figures that this simply can't be the case anymore, if it ever was.

Where he goes awry here is in his reference to the Mac@IBM project, wherein IBM employees were given the option to have Mac workstations instead of PCs. I can tell you from my experience at IBM that I, too, would have wanted a Mac, but it wasn't an option then, so we did the next best thing - we installed Linux on every computer we could lay our hands on.

...it's not so much a testament to how nice Macs are so much as it is a testament to how poorly Windows is received.

While I think this is a myth worth squashing, it's not so much a testament to how nice Macs are so much as it is a testament to how poorly Windows is received. And those technical professionals would likely take a hand-me-down Pentium III over a quad-core powerhouse if they were given the option of running something with a Unix backend on it.

The integration question gets easier to deal with all the time, and Faas notes that in his third myth. That said, it's still easier to integrate a Windows machine with a Windows network simply by virtue of the software. It's not that hard to integrate a Mac, but it is marginally harder.

And that's where this myth takes some real trouble to bust. Because the people who have to accept the reality of Macs being part of the Windows network are the same MCSEs and MCPs who don't want to have to learn something new when they spent time and money learning all the nonsense required to make Windows behave. It'll be harder to get them on the side of the Mac fans than you might think.

Myth number four, about the ease of deployment and support ties into the same problems as myth numbers one and three. Yes, there are very nice programs for monitoring systems and re-imaging a misbehaving workstation, but they're not the programs that the guys in the white short sleeve shirts are used to. It's not Norton Ghost and IBM Tivoli, so they probably don't want to hear about it.

This myth may disappear for all eternity, and you'd still gain no traction against the inertia of existing infrastructure.

With the fifth myth, we find one that really does need to be addressed. Apple does and has offered enterprise-class support packages. I think this is one of those times where Apple gets tagged with the same brush as some of the smaller, less well organized Linux distributions of five or six years ago: Red Hat could be counted on for your business, but only a fool would put Slackware on a production box! (In the spirit of full disclosure, I was one of those fools who put it on production boxes and lived to tell the tale.)

Apple's support tends to be rock solid, and I can't imagine that it would get worse at the enterprise help desk. On the contrary, I would think.

OS X Is Not Invulnerable

Being fair, Faas included a positive myth that needs to be debunked: the myth of OS X invulnerability. It's a myth we, as a community, need to all get over together. Yes, OS X is inherently more secure - it's Unix underneath and not an aging MS-DOS - but it's far from perfect. Apple's been taking some serious hits on this one lately, from DNS cache poisoning to problems with iCal and the recent unpleasantness about automatically running downloads in Safari (though, to be fair, that was more a problem of the clash of cultures between Windows and OS X). The sooner we accept that we can be vulnerable and have to be as vigilant and quick to respond as the Linux people, the better.

The difficult transition myth is really not so much a myth. Yes, smaller organizations can make the switch with relative ease, but the difficulty grows exponentially as the number of employees, workstations, servers, and software packages increases. This can be lessened to some degree with training, or even with a phased transition by way of virtualization, but the productivity dip associated with any major technology upheaval should not be minimized. Instead it should be countered with projected productivity gains to be had from the final product.

With myth number eight, we're right back into the "equal, but different" category from the software myth, this time as it applies to management solutions. There are great tools to manage OS X desktops in much the same way as Group policies, but they aren't group policies, and unless you're going to switch every machine and account in your company all at once, that means duplication of effort.

His next paragraph takes a dive off the very deep end, suggesting that you can avoid using an OS X server by hacking together some changes to Active Directory or by implementing an LDAP server - and at that point you might as well be trying to convince the suits to go Linux instead. No, that's no solution, not in a large scale operation anyway.

The myth of Apple being a consumer business rather than a corporate technology partner actually has enough truth to it to make it remain an issue. Apple does play it's cards close to it's chest, and many businesses would want to be in the know about what was coming along in the pipeline. That doesn't diminish the power and utility of things like the Xserve (of which I have written paeans in the past) and the general robustness of OS X Server, but it does keep some larger partners from taking the plunge in a large way - thus the prevalence of companies with small, closely contained Mac preserves in rarefied areas.

Cost Not Really the Issue

The last myth is the one that tends to get the boss - or at least the bookkeeper's - knickers in a twist, and that's the issue of cost. Why, they wonder, would you buy a MacBook Pro for over US$2,000, when you can buy a commodity Dell laptop for under $500.

I won't go into detail here, as others have so many times before, but the cost of Mac hardware is really not that different from PC hardware anymore, and what you lose in immediate savings you more than make up for in power, performance, and longevity.

And yet the chance of convincing people who have needed to purchase new computers every couple of years that you aren't trying to pull a fast one them is slim at best. They would rather not hear what you have to say, and even presented with the total cost of ownership and long-term return on investment - their native tongue! - they will still balk at the initial outlay of capital.

Don't get me wrong - I do agree, for the most part, with what Ryan has to say. These myths are, almost entirely, truly myths, or even outright lies by those who have a vested interest in keeping Macs out of their environments.

The simple fact that we bust these myths is far from enough. There is more than just a little grain of truth to the maxim "It's hard to convince a man that something is true when his paycheck depends on it not being true." And until we do, Macs will always have an uphill climb to equality, myths or no myths. LEM

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