Stop at any Penn State coffee shop, and you’ll find hordes of students plugging away on laptops — writing papers, doing research or simply updating their Facebook profiles. But what’s perhaps most striking about this scene is the sea of illuminated Apple icons undoubtedly dancing before your eyes. To date, about 4,500 Penn State undergraduates use personal Apple laptops on campus, and like at many other universities, that number is growing.
According to data from market researcher SurveyU, one in five U.S. college students uses an Apple laptop. Perhaps most important, the use of Macs by college students has implications for their eventual workplace preferences.
“[At Penn State], we get lots of anecdotes that suggest that the software the students are exposed to in the curriculum and in the lab environment, that they become comfortable with and productive with, they do ask for in the workplace,” said Kevin Morooney, vice provost for information technology and CIO at Penn State.
According to a recent survey by Accenture, 20 percent of Millennial workers found employer-provided technology to be below their expectations, and one-third said they believe they should be able to use the machine of their choice at work. More than half noted that the presence of state-of-the-art technology at an employer’s site is a key factor in choosing a job.
“The Millennial generation [has] a high sense of entitlement,” explained Dan Coates, co-founder of SurveyU. “This entitlement generation is going to expect their employers to supply computing capabilities to their preferences.”
There are several reasons for Apple’s popularity at the college level. The first is its inherent “cool factor,” Coates said.
“This generation very much is conformist,” he said. “They like to buy the same things; they find great comfort in co-purchasing. They also see the advertising in heavy rotation while they’re watching ‘Heroes’ and ‘House’ and all their other favorite TV programs.”
Another reason for the increased use of Macs among college students is the oft-cited “halo effect” from the iPod and iPhone.
“Their penetration [in the market] has caused more people to look at Mac,” said Peter Frankl, founder and COO of LANrev, a provider of PC and Mac life-cycle management solutions.
Further, it can be argued that Apple fundamentally understands the student lifestyle and reaches out specifically to students. For example, the Apple Education Discount initiative offers reduced prices on software, hardware and third-party vendor products.
“There’s no one more attuned to college students than Apple,” Coates said. “Many of the other PC manufacturers don’t have any educational discount programs that they aggressively market.”
Apple has even supported education through iTunes, providing free content such as lectures and language lessons. Its products also allow the younger crowd to participate and collaborate in the multimedia space with software such as iLife, Coates said.
“[Millennials] not only consume digital media, but they then feel that they should rate it and review it, that they should modify it and shift it, that they should pass it along to others,” Coates said. “And so what you get is a culture of participation in multimedia, not just consumption of multimedia.”
Back in 2000, Apple CEO Steve Jobs stated that the education market was a top priority for the company. The strategy seems to have paid off. In 2008, Macs accounted for about 18 percent of the U.S. laptop market, according to research group NPD. This is up from 15.4 percent in 2006. For laptop computers costing more than $1,000, Apple’s market share totals 64 percent.
Mac penetration also is increasing in the enterprise space: A recent BusinessWeek article stated that Apple’s corporate market share has increased from 8 to10 percent in recent years. In addition, the Yankee Group recently reported that 80 percent of organizations now have Macs in the workplace.
Penetration historically is strongest in creation-centered industries such as media, science and design, but more recently, Macs have made their way into a number of other areas as well, said T. Reid Lewis, president and CEO of Group Logic, a software company that helps companies with file- and print-sharing issues in Mac integration.
One such area is government. Organizations such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have begun to focus on “computer diversity” as a prevention technique in the case of virus attacks or other platform-specific problems that might compromise vital projects.
The distribution and location of Macs within an enterprise also is changing, Lewis said.
“It used to be that Macs were all in one part of the organization — in the creative part [such as] the corporate creative or product packaging,” he said. “Now they’re everywhere.”
Benefits of Macs in the Enterprise
Frankl said much of the current enterprise penetration of Macs can be traced back to employee demand.
“I’ve had companies tell me they’ve had more and more employees asking, ‘I work on a Mac at home. Why can’t I work on a Mac at work?’” he said.
And employers have begun shifting their responses to these questions.
“They used to say, ‘Absolutely not.’ Now they’re considering it,” Frankl said. “When you walk in the doors at Google, they actually ask you: ‘Do you want a Mac or a PC?’ It’s becoming more common.”
Lewis said this shift can be attributed to a focus on what’s best for the business.
“I think that the reason things have changed is that there’s enough awareness of the Mac and enough willingness to compromise on some policy in pursuit of productivity — because a business computer should be about getting things done to make money or achieve the goals of the organization,” he explained.
Another reason many organizations have made the switch to Mac is due to their hesitance to shift over to Windows Vista. Irwin Lazar, principal research analyst at research and advisory firm Nemertes, said: “Enterprises that we talk to are not real sure about Vista. As they decide they’ve got to do something to move beyond XP, [they ask], ‘Does Vista makes sense, or is that the right time to try something like Mac?’”
Lazar said his own organization chose to forgo Vista. “The cost of buying Vista [and] the cost of the next version of Microsoft Office didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense for us,” he said. “So we decided to try Macs.”
Other technical issues that come up as companies consider integrating Macs into their environments are those of reliability and security. “They’re pretty bulletproof when it comes to how they run,” Lazar said. “I don’t turn off my Mac very often; I don’t reboot it very often. Things just work.”
Lewis said his clients have had similar experiences. “[Employees are] more productive because they spend less time fighting with their computers,” he said.
Further, Macs typically carry lower risk of viruses and malware, Lewis said. “For the moment, there are a lot fewer security concerns on the Mac, and you have to jump through fewer hoops to protect it.”
However, it’s safe to assume that as Apple’s market share increases, the prevalence of malware attacks targeted at Macs probably will, too.
Finally, virtualization also has led to increased interest in Apple. One organization that has benefited from virtualization of PC applications on Macs is the NIH, Lewis said. “[NIH employees] used to have two computers on their desk: one PC solely for the purpose of ordering supplies and the Mac for everything else.”
With virtualization, the organization was able to eliminate the extra machine and run the PC application on its Macs.
Challenges to Integration
While there are notable benefits to using Macs in the enterprise, there are some hang-ups, as well. A recent Group Logic survey of 350 IT administrators found that their three most pressing concerns in integration were adapting Active Directory to support Macs, the volume of help-desk calls from Mac users and compatibility.
“[The IT department is] worried that bringing in the Mac is either going to compromise something — cause them to have to change something that they believe will be negative — or make a whole lot of new work for them,” Lewis said.
Many organizations cite compatibility problems with certain corporate applications, as well as problems with VPN clients not running as well on Macs as PCs, Lazar said. In addition, many organizations struggle with Apple’s lack of a computer leasing option and lack of desktop support.
“Companies would much rather lease PCs on a three-year lease than they would buy them,” he said. “But with Macs, they have to buy them. [Also], the channel for desktop support [and] the ability to find a third-party organization [is difficult].”
But Lewis stressed that concerns about Mac integration can be overcome. “They’re very important issues, and you need to take care of them,” Lewis said. “But if you look for the right solution, get the solution and put it in place, then you don’t end up with a whole lot of burden. You just need a few tools, and then it’s just as easy to manage as Windows.”
Up-Skilling to Meet Demand
With the renewed interest in Mac, it will be important for companies to ensure their employees have the skills and knowledge to support the integration.
One way for IT professionals to gain increased knowledge in Mac technologies is through one-time training sessions such as Learning Tree’s “Integrating Mac OS X into a Windows Environment.” A more intensive option is to pursue one of Apple’s enterprise certifications. The company’s Training & Certification group offers certs in Mac hardware and diagnosis; OS X server support, architecture and administration; software applications; and trainer knowledge. (Read more about Apple certs here.)
In addition, enterprises seeking solutions to integration issues can reach out to groups that provide support on these issues. One such group is the Enterprise Desktop Alliance, a collaboration of software developers seeking to educate the IT community on Mac integration.
Like it or not, Apple has penetrated the enterprise. And both professionals and organizations can benefit from broadening their skill sets.
“[Today], there’s Windows of all different varieties, there are BlackBerrys, there are iPhones, there’s Cisco, there’s Macintosh stuff, there’s Linux stuff, there’s cloud computing. IT professionals really need to expand their horizons to handle different kinds of technologies,” Lewis said. “In doing so, they’re going to make themselves more valuable — to them and to their employers. So it’s a win all around.”
– Meagan Polakowski, firstname.lastname@example.org