Why 'no Macs' is no longer a defensible IT strategy

Why 'no Macs' is no longer a defensible IT strategy

More users are demanding Macs in the enterprise. Thanks to key computing shifts, supporting their appetite for Apple is now a straightforward option for IT

What has changed to make the Mac fit better

IT can embrace that Mac momentum, not just tolerate it, thanks to several shifts in computing that make the Mac a better enterprise fit than in the past -- first and foremost being a rising threat to Microsoft's other mainstay in the enterprise desktop environment, Internet Explorer.

Firefox, which has risen in popularity to account for 16.8 per cent of browser use on the Web, according to Net Applications, as of December 2007, has broken IE's stranglehold on Internet app delivery, which it had maintained through ActiveX controls. Because Microsoft never released a version of IE for Mac OS X, Mac users were frozen out of ActiveX-based Web sites, making many SaaS (software as a service) offerings and enterprise-app Web clients off limits to the Mac.

But to ensure operability on Firefox, developers had to configure their wares to support Java instead of or in addition to ActiveX -- with Mac gaining compatibility as a client at the same time.

WebEx is one of the more notorious examples of this switch. The popular Web conferencing tool became fully Mac-compatible only last month, as new owner Cisco Systems decided to abandon an ActiveX-only deployment strategy and add both Java and Mac-client options. (Until then, ReadyTalk and Adobe Connect were two of the few Mac-friendly Web conferencing tools, notes Peter Lincoln, IT director at temp-staff agency Aquent.)

Of course, not everyone is hip to the Java-based Firefox push. Many of MSN's excellent tools require Microsoft's browser due to the use of ActiveX, as do the support tools at a variety of companies with heterogeneous customers, including Seagate and AT&T.

Still, many other vendors have avoided ActiveX dependency and the customer exclusion that results. Those options have driven vendor choices in environments where heterogeneity is the norm, such as at college campuses. Southern Polytechnic State University, for example, chose Juniper Networks' wireless VPN tool mainly because it didn't require a client on user devices, nor limit itself to ActiveX for on-the-fly client provisioning, which would have excluded the large number of Macs that students and faculty use on campus, says CIO Bill Gruzka.

The rise of Web-based computing

Another trend facilitating Mac use in business is the increased enterprise dependecy on SaaS, wherein a diverse array of applications -- from sales-force automation through supply-chain coordination -- is delivered through the browser. Most SaaS applications have not relied on ActiveX, given SaaS' inherent goal of making apps available to anyone, anywhere. This push toward platform agnosticism translates to the use of standards, letting the Mac right in. Ted Elliott, CEO of recruiting software provider Jobscience, says he has noted a rise in Mac customers now that Jobscience has moved to the SaaS model -- customers his platform supports out of the box.

Beyond Firefox and SaaS, many enterprise app developers have adopted the Web as a portal to their apps, following the strong Web-portal drive of the late 1990s.

"The trend in the enterprise is to Web-enabled apps," notes Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. Thus, a Mac user can access Oracle or SAP ERP apps over the Web, regardless of whether there is a Mac-specific client available. Even Microsoft takes this approach to provide Mac compatibility in its SharePoint collaboration environment, which its Mac Office tools don't directly support. (More on Microsoft later.)

Mac-heavy organizations tend toward Web-based apps rather than packaged ones because of Mac compatibility issues, says IT director Lincoln. That's precisely what happened at his company, Aquent. Almost everything is hosted or available as a SaaS application, including sales-force management, ERP, Web conferencing, and anti-malware apps. Aquent's packaged apps are largely limited to Office, e-mail clients, and Web browsers.

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