More than 80 per cent of businesses now use Macs

Nearly 80 per cent of businesses have Macs in-house, nearly double the percentage that said they had users running Mac OS X two years ago, a research firm said today.

“Then, we were talking about onesies and twosies,” said Laura DiDio, a research fellow at Yankee Group Research Inc. who conducted a survey of more than 700 senior IT administrators and C-level executives. “Now the number of actual users is very significant.

A number of the businesses said that they had 50 or 100 or even several thousand Macs deployed.”

In early 2006, when DiDio last polled corporate IT professionals on Mac deployment, 47 per cent said that they had Apple Inc. hardware in their environments.

DiDio was impressed with the growth of Macs in business, considering that Apple Inc. has put little to no official effort into that part of the market.

“This isn’t a tidal wave, but it’s certainly a sustained trend,” she said. “Apple has a beachhead in business. Where it once had just 1-to-2 per cent market share in corporate, now they’re up to 8-to-10 per cent,” DiDio added.

Twenty-one percent of the firms surveyed reported that they had deployed more than 50 Macs. “This isn’t Mickey Mouse; it’s not just onesies and twosies anymore,” DiDio said. “Apple’s graduated into the big league.”

Among the reasons businesses cited for adopting Macs, the most surprising was the ability to virtualize other operating systems, primarily Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, on Mac hardware. “That’s clearly spurring some businesses,” DiDio said.

“A number of the respondents said, ‘Oh, guess what, we’re using the Mac to load Vista or XP on there and using Mac hardware.”

More than a quarter of the firms surveyed – 28 per cent – said that they are running Windows in a virtual machine on the Macs they have. Slightly fewer (22 per cent) confirmed that their Macs are set up to boot either Windows or Mac OS X using the latter’s built-in dual-boot utility, Boot Camp.

DiDio called out virtualization software from Seattle-based Parallels and Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. as the tools enterprises are using to run non-Apple operating systems on Macintosh hardware.

IT professionals noted that the reliability of Apple’s hardware was a factor in shifting to Macs. Almost eight out of 10 of the people surveyed rated Mac hardware reliability as either “excellent” or “very good.”

“There’s no doubt that user confidence in the reliability of both the Macintosh hardware and software products is having a tangible impact on corporate purchasing and deployment trends,” DiDio wrote in a draft of a report based on the survey that she will soon release.

Other enterprise IT administrators said they had gone virtual in an attempt to sidestep the management overhead required for Windows on physical PCs.

“Many of our Windows developers have switched to XP and Vista virtual machines running on Macintosh hardware to circumvent the downtime they experienced with the unreliability – viruses, spyware, disruptive automatic updates – of Windows XP running on PCs,” one IT manager told DiDio in a follow-up interview.

But while businesses are willing to bring in Macs, there’s no indication that an appreciable number are considering swapping out current hardware for Apple’s across the board.

“Some have a problem with the management tools [available for Mac OS X],” said DiDio. “The tools are lacking, and the enterprise hardware and software support is not equivalent to what’s available for Windows.”

Even so, other IT professionals have made the case that some of Mac OS X’s tools make up for the lack of management support.

“All these tools that the Mac [OS X] has, like desktop search [with Spotlight], iChat and Time Machine make a very compelling case to install Mac,” she said.

“The difference now is that it’s much more concerted and formalized,” DiDio concluded, talking about current Mac adoption trends. “People are making the choice to go with Apple – not just to let it in, but that it’s a viable choice.”

The growing popularity of Macs may boosting uptake of other Apple business products, notably Apple servers.

In fact Mac clone makers have now ventured on to Apple’s server turf.

Earlier this month, a Florida Mac clone maker unveiled knock-offs of Apple Inc.’s Xserve servers

Psystar Inc., which made headlines two months ago when it introduced Intel-based computers able to run a modified version of Apple’s Mac OS X, started selling its OpenServ systems Thursday.

The servers, which closely resemble Apple’s rack-mounted Xserve, come in two configurations: the 1U-format 1100 and the 2U-format 2400.

Although the base price of the less-expensive OpenServ 1100 is $1,599, when tricked out with an unlimited-client version of Mac OS X 10.5 Server to better match the Xserve’s specifications, the price tag is $2,624.99 – about 12.5 per cent less than the $2,999 Apple charges.

The base OpenServ models feature a quad-core Intel Xeon processor that runs at 2.5 GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive. The four drive bays of the 1100 and the six in the $1,999 2400 can be filled with up to 4TB or 6TB of disk storage space, respectively.

Apple’s stock Xserve comes with a quad-core 2.8-GHz Xeon CPU, 2GB of memory and a relatively small 80GB drive. The 1U-format server sports three drive bays, which can hold up to 3TB of storage.

“We want to serve the entire market, not just the mainstream or niches, but everyone,” Christian Infante, director of sales and marketing for the Doral, Fla.-based company, said in a statement yesterday.

“We want to offer a relevant product for every user, regardless of their needs.”

Although the Mac OS X end-user license agreement bans its use on non-Apple hardware, the company has taken no known legal action against Psystar.

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