IBM researchers testing workplace use of Macs

PC industry forefather evaluates viability of Apple's hardware for its workers

IBM Thursday disclosed that 100 of its researchers are giving Apple Macintosh computers a go to find out whether they are a strong option for use in the workplace.

The pilot program, which began late in 2007, was launched to find out whether some of the company's workers would be happier running a MacBook laptop than a PC, and whether the Apple computer can run applications needed by IBM workers, said IBM spokeswoman Stefanie Sirc.

"We're looking to provide employees with the right tools," said Sirc. "What they want is what we want to give them. We're not tied to any product or platform."

Sirc said that as the pilot program progresses, some researchers have provided positive feedback on the MacBook.

Sirc also noted that the pilot program does not indicate an imminent major strategy shift away from PC technology inside the company. "Researchers at our IBM Labs are doing what they do best -- trying out new things," she said. "A one-size-fits-all client computing platform no longer provides IBM's global employees with the flexibility to innovate and be productive while containing IT expenses. Many parts of the business will remain on Windows XP. Some will migrate to Linux. There are some requirements for Mac."

Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group, said the pilot program is an interesting move for a founder of the PC industry. IBM, he added, probably is the next-to-the-last company - after Microsoft - one would find likely to move away from the PC standard toward Macs.

"If they move toward Macs in any significant way, it would be a true signal that Macs can be a player in a corporate infrastructure and that Windows isn't the only way to go for corporate desktop/laptop computing," said Olds. "My guess is that they really want to test the Apple claim of being easier to use and offering higher productivity. The IBM of today is all about going after higher productivity rates, without regard to past religion or anything else."

But Olds was quick to add that the decision to use Macs would likely not be based on whether or not 100 or so people like using them. The company would also have to evaluate questions like how much it would cost to support Macs on the corporate network.

IBM, which has about 350,000 employees worldwide, also is in the midst of a Linux pilot program. The open source desktop software is available to employees upon request.

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Sharon Gaudin

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