Ballmer needn't fear the Mac...just yet

Boutique analyst firm Freeform Dynamics took a run at standardizing on Macs but the switch was not worthwhile. They're now back in the Windows fold.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Boutique analyst firm Freeform Dynamics took a run at standardizing on Macs but the switch was not worthwhile. They're now back in the Windows fold. Their report starts by posing a series of questions about business benefit. They found that when pressed, business users were hard put to come up with anything other than woolly answers. So what usually happens when an average business user switches to Mac?

With the world and his dog essentially standardised on Microsoft Office for business, how does the average Mac user in a mainstream commercial setting handle that? Well, they typically run a copy MS Office in a Windows virtual machine using Parallels or VMware Fusion. Most say they flip to this to do a lot of their more 'boring' work such as messaging and collaboration via the Exchange server, and participation in the document production/review/approval cycle with colleagues, clients, suppliers and so on, then do everything else in OS X. Of course the big question then becomes what does “everything else” actually translate to – accessing corporate applications and the Web through a browser probably – i.e. things that the desktop OS has little bearing on.

What happened in Freeform's case?

The answer is actually pretty simple – we found that as a business, we were far more reliant on Microsoft Office under Windows than we had anticipated, and while most of the other productivity and business apps we use had native Mac equivalents, this was not true for all of them. The end result was that we couldn‟t get away from Windows, so ended up with a hybrid Windows/OS X environment which got in the way of productivity.

In other words none of:

  • Improved uptime compared with Windows Vista
  • Fewer critical security patches
  • Ease of networking
  • Faster operating (at least natively)

...could overcome the lock that Microsoft has placed in their business? That seems short sighted.

I've operated solely in the internet 'cloud' for some three years now with nothing other than the occasional glitch. The only time I use desktop applications is when Google or Zoho can't 'read' something, most often from a PowerPoint deck. I'm not alone.

OK so I'm a one man band and accountable to no-one but myself. Yet both Google and Zoho are picking up plenty of business. All the indications suggest that the inevitable price pressures arising out of the impending IT spend squeeze would favor a re-consideration of those Microsoft licenses. That's what GE thinks.

Of course you don't need Mac to make that sort of switch but as anyone will tell you, both IE6 and IE7 present challenges when working with internet applications. Users could switch to Firefox as the day to day browser but most will simply use whatever they're given.

The question then comes down to TCO. The Mac acquisition cost is an order of magnitude more expensive than Windows machines but as my Irregular colleague Zoli Erdos said last month:

I started to chronicle the hassle of just running a Vista PC and dealing with random, unexplainable failures, but more or less gave up.  Compare this to the anecdotal evidence of my Mac-user friends, who, despite occasional hiccups all agree: it just works.

And that's the point. As someone who is constantly creating content of one kind or another (including accounts data) productivity matters. A lot. I've never had a Mac equivalent of BSOD, rarely need to power down and reboot (though I do so more these days as an energy saver) and have never had any real problems other than crappy battery life.

I've not seen any recent comparative studies about Mac v PC TCO but my experience mirrors that of my Mac using colleagues. Macs work. Period. Whether it is possible to generalize our experience to fully networked operations is another matter. All I know is that my Express based wifi home network works just fine.

Given the SMB sector is Microsoft's bread and butter by volume and recent news that Apple's laptop products are doing rather well, perhaps Ballmer should have something to worry about. But only from those who are prepared to view a move to Mac as an opportunity to completely re-evaluate how they are using IT to run their business. For some that will be a breath of fresh air, for others their Wintel addiction will be too powerful.

The full Freeform Dynamics report is here.(PDF)

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