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

End-user controls in Mac OS X Server are similar to those of Windows management tools: You can restrict users from burning discs, mounting external hard drives, or running unauthorized applications. It also supports laptops' disconnected state, ensuring that settings, configurations, and policies are maintained before network access is granted when a user reconnects.

For organizations not tied to ActiveDirectory, Open Directory also integrates with standard LDAP directory services such as Novell's eDirectory, Sun's Java Enterprise Directory Server, and IBM's Directory Server.

For backup and disaster recovery, you can use Mac OS X Server's tools or any of several established enterprise systems, including those from Atempo, BakBone, EMC, IBM's Tivoli unit, Legato Systems and Symantec's Veritas unit. These all have Mac clients but manage the data from Windows systems. For Mac-based server management (of Mac and Windows clients), the most established option is Retrospect from EMC's Dantz unit. For Mac-only businesses or workgroups, analyst Gottheil suggests Apple's Time Machine running on Mac OS X Server or Apple's Time Capsule appliance as an easy-to-administer backup and recovery tool.

Although Mac management tools are less costly than per-client Windows ones, analyst Gottheil does note that there is a price associated with having IT staff "speak two languages" when supporting two platforms. That is one reason Macs tend to be more prevalent in small businesses, where it is easier to go all-Mac, or in workgroups within an enterprise, where the Mac IT experts do not also have to be Windows experts. Publicis' Plavin recommends that Macs crossing departmental or geographic boundaries be assigned to Mac specialists, to reduce knowledge overhead.

Another IT myth is that Apple provides no enterprise-class support. That's simply not true, notes Plavin. Apple's AppleCare program provides on-site support, as well as telephone support, he notes, although he concedes that perhaps because his operations are based in New York, Apple technicians may be more likely to come in than if he were in a smaller city or town.

Microsoft: The elephant in the room

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of supporting Macs in a business environment resides in Microsoft's less-than-fervent embrace of the platform. Macs are by no means frozen out from the powerful and popular Microsoft Office productivity suite. In fact, thanks to Microsoft, Mac users can run Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook (called Entourage on the Mac) on their machines. This is crucial in heterogeneous environments, as it allows users to share business files and participate in the same e-mail, contact management, and calendaring system as their PC cohorts.

Yet Microsoft releases Mac Office a year after Windows Office, forcing dual-platform businesses to wait a year before rolling out an Office upgrade. Moreover, the Mac version of Office is never quite the same as the Windows version, in ways that add irritation to both IT and users. For example, display incompatibilities -- due to differing graphics engines -- have meant that Office drawing and art tools do not produce the same visuals on both platforms. (Microsoft brags that Office 2008 fixes this problem.)

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