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Putting the Mac to Work in a PC Shop

By Jack M. Germain MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 21, 2009 3:00 PM PT

It used to be that if you had any sort of affinity for Macs, then there was a good chance you were a graphic artist, musician or niche computer fan. Today, the Mac is popular among an increasing number of users in a variety of work environments.

Putting the Mac to Work in a PC Shop

Apple's platform doesn't look like it'll completely replace Windows -- or Linux, to a smaller degree -- in the everyday workplace anytime soon. However, Apple's consumer electronics successes have helped the Mac to make steady inroads into the PC-dominated world of work.

Apple's growth in popularity among consumers is driving a trend to bring the Mac from the home into the office. However, cash- and personnel-strapped IT teams are finding it difficult to deploy and manage cross-platform environments in a streamlined, effective manner.

Systems management vendors like Kace, Thrive and MokaFive are putting new tools in IT workers' hands to manage dual computing environments. They do this by improving Mac functionality and further extending support to the Mac platform.

These management tools make PC and Mac clients equal citizens in the workplace network and enable IT teams to save a significant amounts of time and money over manual management methods.

Macs have started to appear next to the Microsoft brethren in the offices of companies ranging from financial institutions to law firms. Some number only a few, while other work environments are filled with half or more of all its computers sporting Apple's rather than Microsoft's logo.

Driving Factors

One reasons Macs are coming to work is because their users want the same convenience and familiarity on the job that they enjoy at home. Also, some of the newest Mac apps are not available as ported apps in PCs, noted Jim Lippie, president of Staples Network Services by Thrive. His company is the enterprise tech support division of the Staples computer store chain.

"There is no reason not to use Macs at work. We're bringing in more engineers who use Mac and run Windows on it," Lippie told MacNewsWorld.

The bulk of computer use in most offices involves using Office documents, Web surfing and email. Using Macs to do these tasks is a total non-issue, according to Jack Miller, a Mac consultant for Infinity Business Systems. Salespeople and remote workers like Macs a lot, especially for their good battery life, good LCD screens and lack of user hassles, he explained

"Also, many more apps are Web-based, so this cuts down on the need for integrating programs over two platforms," Miller told MacNewsWorld.

Management Mania

Kace's recently released system management appliance features multi-platform support to simplify and streamline IT operations for increased efficiencies, according to Kace brass.

"Once a company has from 50 to 100 machines, IT has to get into an automated management mode for the end points. In span of one year, we've seen the Mac adoption rate increase from 34 percent to 68 percent. This opens up a pretty good opportunity for cross-platform players," Rob Meinhardt, CEO of Kace, told MacNewsWorld.

Apple's upcoming OS makes it easier for IT managers to integrate the Mac into the workplace Microsoft network. Apple now provides built-in support in the Snow Leopard operating system for enterprise support and Microsoft Exchange. This is driving more interest for Mac in the enterprise, he said.

"IT is now facing the idea that it needs to support what the workers are using," Lubos Parobek, Kace's vice president of product management, told MacNewsWorld.

Management Options

Staples Network Services focuses on virtualization to effectively run a Windows environment on a Mac.

"It is really a user preference about which platform to use. Mac users enjoy the better functionality. Microsoft recognizes the Mac's appeal to graphic designers. Look at Vista. It has a lot more of the Mac OS look and feel," said Lippie.

Got Moka?

MokaFive also designed its Mac-PC-Linux environment management tool around virtualization. However, it added a twist: Users can just click on a link to access a virtualized image on a local machine.

"There is a lot of interest in choice computing at work. I'm seeing a lot of BYOPC (bring your own PC)," John Whaley, founder and acting CTO at MokaFive, told MacNewsWorld.

Its software platform differs from similar tools in that it uses cloud storage rather a central on-site server to store the master, or "golden," image that is deployed to Windows and Mac computer users. Its virtualized image can be downloaded from a cloud link sent via email, stored on a USB drive or at a Web link.

"IT manages the image for updating changes. Software patches and control updates are kep in the golden image. The next time the user connects, all updates are current, Whaley said.

No VM Where

Unlike other systems that tether the computers to a central server, MokaFive executes locally but maintains control centrally. Its virtualized image can run full-screen or in a window.

Infinity Business Systems, however, does not look at virtualization as the ideal dual-platform management solution. The Mac plays better in the cloud environment than a PC, according to Miller.

"We prefer not to use virtualized Windows on a Mac. Instead, we make the Mac part of the unified network. We only want to see virtual use for key programs that need it," he said.

Two Better Than One

"In most shops that have Macs along with PCs, when the number of Macs reaches about 15 percent, IT can no longer manually manage them and have to move to some type of automated system," Parobek said.

Those that cater to helping IT departments manage dual environments are seeing a lot more Macs in the workplace. Computer networks are becoming more of a mixed environment. At what point are Macs a big enough presence in the system to warrant the cost of a new platform management tool? The answer to that depends on the company.

"It depends on how big the total organization is to determine at what point you need to start automating Mac support," Lippie said. "Adding Mac support to a burdened IT department can be a huge headache if no one has Mac experience. IT managers are calling on us to handle it for them."

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