by Tom Kaneshige

Six Myths About Macs in the Enterprise

Apr 05, 2010
AppleComputers and PeripheralsEnterprise Architecture

Cost arguments. Support wars. Software problems. We examine these and other myths that can hinder enterprise Mac adoption.

Want a Mac for work? Sure you do. Macs are powerful, sleek and super easy to use. Even your company’s top executives probably have them.

But chances are you don’t have a Mac. “Our stats do not show Apple’s major uptake in the enterprise market,” says Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa. “Apple’s share in the PC market has been less than 1 percent in the last several years and has not changed.”

Companies and IT departments have made all sorts of claims why Macs shouldn’t be allowed to enter the enterprise, especially not en masse. Some of their claims make valid points. Others are more myth than reality. The so-called barriers to Macs in the enterprise range from the cost of Macs to ill-prepared IT staff to the lack of user justification.

Here are six concerns that hinder Mac adoption:

Do Macs Cost Too Much?

A recent CIO story, Are Macs Really Cheaper to Manage Than PCs, sparked a heated debate among readers who promptly took sides. Indeed, a Mac’s price tag is the highest hurdle Macs need to clear for enterprise adoption.

Many CIOs claim that lower support costs offset the premium price for Macs. In fact, Tom Kelly, who wears two hats—CFO and CIO—at Healthcare IP Partners, brought Macs into a Windows-only enterprise a couple of years ago because he saw the potential for Macs to relieve desktop-support management headaches and cut support costs.

Robert Pickering, VP of IT at AAA Allied Group, talks enterprise Mac adoption.

Not only do Mac users experience fewer problems, Kelly says, they also take ownership by either troubleshooting technical hiccups themselves or taking their Mac to an Apple Store.

An Enterprise Desktop Alliance survey found that Macs were cheaper in six of seven computer management categories: troubleshooting, help desk calls, system configuration, user training and supporting infrastructure (servers, networks and printer).

Mac naysayers, on the other hand, cite the high cost of Macs coupled with the overhead of having to support two operating systems. One reader writes: “User support cost-savings are eaten up by transition costs: backup, systems management, antivirus, office software, rights management, Excel/Word/PPT macros. All that stuff needs to be changed or implemented redundantly.”

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Robert Pickering, vice president of information technology at AAA Allied Group, says the upfront cost of a Mac is significant. His standard-issue Hewlett-Packard laptop is around $1,000, whereas a Macbook Pro starts at $2,500 plus additional costly peripherals such as a docking station.

This cost difference means employees must make a compelling case to managers for a Mac—which isn’t easy. “People often only look at what’s coming out of their initial capital expenditure budget,” says Pickering, a self-proclaimed Mac fan since 1984. “They’re not looking at depreciation or residual value because those are three or four years away.”

Yet Macs make up the cost difference during those years, Pickering says. AAA Allied Group has a PC refresh cycle every three years, and a three-year-old Hewlett-Packard laptop is basically worthless. Dim LCD. Crashed drives. Cracked casings.

A three-year-old Macbook Pro, on the other hand, can be sold on eBay or privately to the employee for $1,000. Or a Macbook Pro can be used for another year. “Now we’re in the same ballpark on the hardware costs,” Pickering says.

Will Virtualization Gobble Up Savings?

On the software side, Pickering saves he saves licensing dollars on Macs because he doesn’t buy anti-virus and anti-spyware software for them. With Windows PCs, though, they are must-have software.

Mac-related support issues are also nearly non-existent. “I would like a larger percentage of Macs in the environment because users would be happier, as would my help desk because they wouldn’t get the calls,” Pickering says. (AAA Allied Group began supporting Macs beyond the marketing department in 2009, and the number of Macs has grown to 8 percent of some 1,000 computers.)

The problem is that Macs often need desktop virtualization in order to run critical Windows apps, namely Office and Outlook—and this upends much of the Mac savings.

Another reader writes: “Almost all the Macs in my company require VMware, Fusion/Parallels or WinXP with Bootcamp, which means time spent configuring and supporting the PC side of the setup, as well as constant hacks and work-arounds to get features that are a simple setup on the PC to work on a Mac. Add to that no centralized administration with Active Directory, problematic setups with network shares, email quirks and the like, and I would have to say I completely disagree that Macs are cheaper than PCs.”

It doesn’t make sense to give a Mac to an employee when most of the apps will be running on a virtual machine. “That’s a crutch,” Pickeing says. “It’s difficult to justify the Mac because you can’t save on the licensing. It gets expensive running Windows in virtualization on top of something else.”

Pickering, though, predicts this problem will be short-lived. Employees, he says, often convert to native Mac apps after a couple of months with the exception of Outlook. Mac users don’t want to deal with the quirks that come with Entourage, so the last virtualized Windows app is Outlook.

“But the advent of Office 2010, including native Outlook on the Mac, will be game changing,” Pickering says. “You won’t need desktop virtualization anymore.”

Do You Really Need a Mac?

One of the most common responses to Mac requests is, “Why do you need one?” It’s a looming hurdle that discourages many employees from even asking for a Mac.

Some employees really do need Macs to get their job done. Graphics departments need Macs because critical apps such as Adobe Creative Suite simply don’t run well on Windows. Web developers need Macs to test code on a variety of browsers; you can’t run Safari or Firefox on a Windows machine because the Mac OS can’t be virtualized, at least not legally.

At AAA Allied Group, top executives have Macs: the vice president of marketing, vice president of membership, executive vice president of travel. The latter is on the road all the time and carries a Macbook Air for its convenience and computing power. Pickering got a Mac as a condition of his employment. “Execs own budgets, so they can self approve,” he says.

What about a Mac for the rest of us? Pickering says executives with Macs can grease the wheels for employees to get Macs. That’s because they appreciate the Mac’s impact on productivity and are more likely to approve them. Managers with PCs, on the other hand, make Macs a hard sell for employees reporting to them.

Companies competing for talent can also dangle Macs as an incentive. A Silicon Valley law firm brought Macs into the enterprise two years ago because many lawyers wanted PC choice. Today, half of the lawyers use a Mac. “There’s buzz among attorneys that if you work for us, you get to use a Mac,” says the CIO, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pickering says employees can use the refresh cycle to help justify a Mac. “If you’re willing to extend your refresh by a year, then you can have a Mac,” he says. “We’ll get the payback on hardware costs.”

Can IT Support the Mac?

Another Mac barrier to entry is an unprepared IT staff. When Pickering decided to support Macs in the enterprise, he first needed to find someone on his 20-person IT staff willing to get up to speed on the Mac. A network admin in Connecticut took up the challenge.

Pickering gave the admin a Mac. In return, the admin promised to learn as much as he could about the Mac, bring Macs into Active Directory, and take all Mac-related support calls. Pickering would back him up as the go-to-Mac guy.

Today, Pickering’s help desk staff has picked up Mac lessons and can provide some support. As the number of Macs continues to grow, he’s looking to add another Mac specialist to augment the frontline support team, perhaps someone within the team. “I’ve got no end of people raising their hands and asking for Macs inside IT,” Pickering says.

Learning the tricks of another OS isn’t easy. For instance, a systems admin and Mac tech for a 40-employee company, speaking on condition of anonymity, says moving from a Mac-only environment to a mixed one required a lot reading.

“The burden of two operating systems is mostly the sheer span of knowledge involved and the time available to study or play with them,” he says. “Right now, I’ve got Mac OS X 10.6 and Windows 7 running on two machines, and two manuals over 800 pages each for me to get at least acquainted with. Then there’s the differences between Office 2007 for Win and Office 2008 for Mac, and so on.”

Are Mac Apps Enterprise Ready?

Like IT workers, Mac apps face a learning curve, too.

Consider the systems admin, who says his company’s growth spurt five years ago necessitated a move to Windows. “We needed to move up to enterprise scale email,” he says. “Macs at the time had nothing seriously well regarded for the enterprise—DNS, Exchange, Active Directory.”

It’s very difficult to run a Mac-only environment, agrees Pickering, due to compatibility issues cropping up. “What is your email platform? Group calendaring? Group scheduling?” he asks.

Meanwhile, Windows desktop management software vendors may offer a Mac version but many don’t work well, say Mac engineers. Getting good enterprise-class support for Mac features from Windows developers can be problematic at times, too, they say.

Some apps just flat out don’t work well on the Mac. In one of five little known surprises about Macs, Healthcare IP Partners’ Kelly relates a story about a bad Mac app. He had been using GoToMeeting, a Web conferencing tool, when rival Cisco WebEx came out with a great deal. So Kelly switched to WebEx—and it regularly hung up on the Mac when hosting a conference.

Avi Learner, an Apple certified consultant, has had similar experiences. “Cisco products are notoriously hostile towards Macs, even the VPN dial up tool,” Learner says. “I’ve never heard why, but I experience it in the field all the time.”

To be fair, the anonymous systems admin says he’s been using Cisco VPN on three Macs for about three years with excellent performance. CIOs including Pickering also say that many Windows apps run better on Macs in a virtual environment than they do on a PC.

Will a Mac Open the Floodgates?

When Pickering asked for a Mac as a condition of his employment four years ago, he recalls, the CFO agreed with a caveat: “You can’t convert the whole environment to Macs.”

That’s a fear many executives share. If my co-worker has a Mac, the thinking goes, why can’t I have one? Pickering, though, isn’t concerned that Macs will one day trump Windows in the enterprise. “By and large, my end users really don’t care what they’re using,” he says.

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.