Apple pushes open a window

Apple has released a beta of software that will allow its new Intel-based Macintosh desktops and laptops to run Microsoft’s Windows XP OS natively, as well as Mac OS X. While Apple has said it’s not making a play for the enterprise desktop market, analysts said the move will find appeal in already-Mac-friendly corporate niches.

The “Boot Camp” software creates a hard drive partition for Windows XP and lets users select between the two operating systems at startup. It’s available now as a free trial beta, and it will be included in the next major version of Mac OS X Version 10.5, or “Leopard,” due late this year.

The user needs to supply their own copy of Windows XP Service Pack 2, and Apple warns that because of hardware incompatibilities, some features, such as the wireless keyboard and mouse, won’t function in Windows.

Carmi Levy, a senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said Microsoft has nothing to fear from Boot Camp, particularly in the enterprise market.

“The reality is, long term, Apple will always be a niche player,” said Levy. “Even with the switch to Intel, Apple is not threatening the hegemony of the Intel-based Windows PC.” However, Levy said Apple’s traditional enterprise niches have been weakening in recent years.

These include graphics, advertising and creative departments, he said. The Windows alternatives have gained maturity and IT managers have been pushing for greater standardization. With Boot Camp, Levy said these niches can still have their Macs and IT can support them more easily.

While support will be simpler, Levy said enterprises aren’t going to swap their PCs for Macs in large numbers. Where there will be wins, though, he said, is in small and medium-sized businesses, where firms have less of an investment in Windows machines, and where, with less support resources, they’re more sensitive to some of the security issues around PCs vs. Macs.

“[SMBs] might be more predisposed to looking at Apple architecture on the desktop and being a little more comfortable moving lock, stock and barrel over to it,” said Levy.

Some IT pros managing mixed environments see their lives become easier with Boot Camp. John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Healthcare System in Boston, said the school has about 4,000 Macs and a roughly equal number of Windows-based machines.

Students and faculty members can now choose “the best tools for their specific needs,” Halamka said. Users who have tried the beta release of Boot Camp have reported that it makes Windows XP applications run “blazingly fast” on a Mac, he said.

Willi Powell, strategic development manager, Apple Canada, said the move to the Intel chipset has sparked a lot of interest from the enterprise sector, adding that the Unix heritage and low support requirements make the Mac OS a good fit for the enterprise.

However, Powell said Apple hasn’t made a play for the enterprise desktop market in the past, and that’s not about to change.

“If they’re interested, we’re not going to turn them away, but we’re not going to aggressively market to them,” said Powell.

In the data centre, though, it’s a different story. Powell said Apple’s storage and server offerings are finding strong acceptance in the enterprise market.

“We’re not going to boldly say we’re going to replace everything in someone’s data centre, but…there’s a proven track record with successes,” said Powell.

Info-Tech’s Levy said the data centre is almost like a different world from the desktop, and in the server and storage space, Apple’s offerings have been very well received.

“Even if the numbers aren’t there, the respect is certainly there, and they’ve built a bit of a beachhead for further penetration into the data centre,” said Levy. “The challenge for Apple is to convince IT administrators that they are a viable option for data centre deployment.”

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