By Charles Haddad Here's an interesting theory. Corporate information-technology managers favor PCs because these machines are so befuddling. The rising complexity of workplace computing makes big companies ever more dependent on tech support, so what self-respecting chief information officer is going to recommend a computer -- such as the Mac -- that might shrink rather than expand his department's influence? Macs generally require less support than PCs and are thus cheaper and easier to run and maintain. So perhaps the PC's dominance of the workplace is about power -- not money.
That's quite an insight. Too bad I can't take credit for it. This little pearl of wisdom comes from Greg Yurash, Web-content engineer at Associated Productions in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Businesses rely on people with the least incentive to give economical recommendations for advice on computer buying," he points out.
POCKETS OF SUPPORT. Yurash was among the scores of readers who deluged my electronic mailbox last week. It seems my column recommending that Apple give up trying to woo big companies really hit a live wire (see BW Online, 3/6/02, "Macs and Businesses Just Don't Mix"). Plenty of that e-mail was heated, with fanatical readers accusing me of heresy. But I also learned a thing or two, which is saying a lot for a codger such as myself. This week, I'd like to share some of those lessons.
While Macs represent only a percentage point or two of the corporate market, that figure still adds up to a lot of companies. And not all of them are graphics or photo studios, either. Take E. L. Wagner Co., a high-end swimming-pool construction company in Bridgeport, Conn. It has more than 40 Macs networked by Ethernet and Airport. "I can't imagine using any other system," says John C. Gedney III, sales vice-president. He's even upgrading his Macs to OS X, a big vote of confidence in Apple's future. Other companies, such as leading ski-apparel manufacturer Spyder Active Sports, have already converted to OS X.
And if my e-mail is any indication, Macs have plenty of pockets of support within big companies. Scores of IT managers and their underlings wrote in -- most of them anonymously -- to complain that their companies could save millions if they would switch to Macs. Says one IT manager for a major telecom-equipment company, who asked to remain unidentified: "Our CIO overseers shun the Mac." That didn't stop him, though, from rigging his company's research and development department to run on Macs. He says the department's IT costs have plummeted since the move, which stops his supervisors from stamping out his resistance.
UNDERGROUND NETWORK. Indeed, rebels abound. Another IT manager described a clandestine wireless network of Macs running OS X he set up at his giant company. He's keeping a comparative log of maintenance costs between his pirate cell and a similar PC network. In a month, he plans to present his findings to upper management. Says this manager: "I ask you, what's more cost effective -- buying a PC that needs a network technician and two support guys for $5,000 each a month, or a $2,000 Mac that requires just one support person? The OS X server is so much easier to install and run."
OS X, which is Unix-based, is proving especially appealing to some engineering departments at both universities and big companies. Many engineers and scientists already keep dual machines, one running Windows and the other Unix. With OS X, they could dump their PCs and run Unix and Mac applications on one computer. "Now that's some chili dog," says T.M. Lutas, referring to the comparison I made in my Mar. 6 column between the lure of the corporate market and the guilty pleasure of greasy food.
While encouraging, these stories haven't shaken my belief that most big companies aren't interested in the Mac and never will be. Why else would IT managers and tech workers be afraid to speak on the record about their Mac leanings? No, I think Yurash has it about right. Many IT managers favor befuddled users who are dependent on them. It's only human nature, after all. Haddad, Atlanta-based correspondent for BusinessWeek, is a long-time Apple Computer buff. Follow his weekly Byte of the Apple column, only on BusinessWeek Online