Desperately Seeking Enterprise Software for Macs
Macs have long been kept out of the enterprise due to a vicious cycle: Companies didn't use them because the software they needed wasn't compatible, and software vendors didn't develop compatible wares because few companies used Macs. That's changing now, with the emergence of virtualization tech, Web-based apps and software synchronization tools.
With shipments of Apple computers on the rise -- to the tune of 38 percent year-on-year, according to Gartner -- software vendors appear ready to accommodate the shift in the marketplace.
It may be hip to go Apple, but companies need software that's compatible with Mac computer systems, and the software industry is finally responding to the call.
The Enterprise Desktop Alliance, for example, has brought together software developers interested in delivering solutions to address the increasing role Macs are playing in a Windows-tilted world.
The alliance includes Centrify, for identity and access management; LANrev, for systems life cycle management; Atempo, for business data security; GroupLogic, for file and print services; and Parallels, for desktop virtualization.
"The pendulum is definitely swinging toward Macs again," Corey Thomas, vice president of consumer and business marketing for Seattle-based Parallels, told MacNewsWorld.
The interesting thing, he said, is that the movement is coming from the top of companies downward.
"That's forcing IT staffs to respond -- forcing them to adjust to a dual operating environment," Thomas said.
All Systems Go
The idea is to develop software that's adaptable to any operating system, Thomas noted.
"There's lots of infrastructure -- and ideas and assumptions that go into it," he said. "Just about every company is stuck with core apps that are required for just about every user that have to run on both Windows and also on the new Macs. Outlook is just one example."
The No. 1 barrier is the compatibility issue -- but it's not insurmountable, said Thomas. "We overcome that by allowing people to keep their same Mac experience, and they can run any Windows app on their Mac and run the corporate software on a Mac-like user field. One thing we're looking at is adding more and more support for enterprise functionality."
That's necessary in a business world that is becoming more Mac-friendly.
"We've come along with a way to allow them to run seamlessly on a Mac," Thomas remarked.
The idea of coherence virtualization is to allow a user to run any OS on any computer, he explained. "We have the technology to allow people to run Windows on their Macs, but we integrated the Windows apps such that they look and feel like Mac apps, and the user doesn't have to do any work. All they see is the app."
The seamless integration has been "wildly received," said Thomas. "We've won just about every Mac award you can imagine. Others are starting to emulate it, which is the best praise."
Even the integration of mundane tasks, like invoicing, is getting a lot of attention.
Indeed, many of Toronto-based FreshBooks' clients are Mac-using freelancers, said Mitch Solway, vice president of marketing for the company.
"Most of our customers save 4-1/2 to seven hours a month on invoicing," Solway told MacNewsWorld. "They tell us that, on average, they're getting paid 14 days faster with this system."
Personalization features let them "customize the whole look and feel to match their own logos and colors," he added. "It looks very professional for them."
FreshBooks is ready-made for Mac users, according to Solway. "Really, from the early stages, we found a lot of Mac users that were some of the early adopters of the service in the early days. When you think about the type of businesses that don't enjoy accounting and bookkeeping, you're talking about creative people. That's the core of our users. Most of them tend to prefer a Mac environment. So, we've been very conscious of the Mac user from the earliest stages. They've been using the Freshbooks service, even indirectly."
Field Is Growing
More enterprise users are migrating from a Windows world to take up Macs, noted Solway. "Certainly, there are more and more small businesses that are emerging and a lot more freelancers out there, and that would probably speak to why we're seeing more. It certainly continues to be a big part of our business."
Every new product for Mac users gets a lot of attention, he said. "Just this year, we released a time-tracking widget for the Mac OS X platform. That got picked up in a lot of the blogs. It was something a little different. Here's a company that has developed something just for Mac users."
The trend is unmistakable, observed Greg Sterling, principal analyst for Sterling Marketing Intelligence.
"I don't have the numbers, but I think there are some users are that are moving that way. I think that Web apps and the trend toward Web-based computers definitely helps Mac users," he told MacNewsWorld. "The OS becomes irrelevant. The software is for Windows. Some of the enterprise apps that exist only for Windows and not for Macs become a boon for Mac enterprise users, for Web-based apps."
The compatibility issue is becoming less a problem, but it's still there, noted Alan Chapell, president of Chapell and Associates.
"I know a lot of folks have had problems integrating their BlackBerrys," he told MacNewsWorld. "The idea that you can use Microsoft Office on a Mac now is a clear sign of where all this is heading. To the extent that stuff isn't compatible, that's going to change in a heartbeat. "
The days of avoiding Macs in a Windows world may soon be gone.
"If you look at the Mac in the enterprise world, it goes two ways," Thomas said. "One, it continues to push the boundaries to be a hands-off experience. The other thing that we'll continue to push ahead is to make sure we enable enterprises to have all the tools and support they need."