Mac OS X 'an ideal platform' for SMBs

Low support costs and sturdy applications shape Mac OS X as a suitable SMB system

Historically, Macs and small business aren't often associated with each other. Yet smaller firms seem to be one of the markets Apple is targeting with Mac OS X Leopard Server. Leopard Server's new Server Preferences interface is designed primarily for small businesses, which often need some of the features of a server but don't have the budget for dedicated hardware or an IT specialist. Apple has also been targeting small businesses with a special section of its Web site and with special events in its retail stores to educate users and business owners about how Mac OS X can be used.

In many ways, Mac OS X is an ideal platform for small businesses and offices. It is easy to install and set up, often requires little technical support to maintain, and remains free of many of the virus and malware problems that plague Windows PCs. All of this should be appealing for a business with anywhere from a handful to a few dozen employees that cannot afford full-time IT staff.

Alykhan Jetha, CEO of Marketcircle, which develops business apps for Mac OS X, described the additional support needed to maintain Windows PCs as being the biggest advantage to running a business on Macs. Many business owners are "just fed up" with issues like viruses and crashes that reduce productivity and increase ownership costs, he said. Jetha also pointed out that about 50% of his new customers are switchers -- businesses that once used Windows.

Marketcircle isn't alone: Many other business software developers are seeing stronger demand for Mac products. Kevin Ford, founder and CEO of Parliant, a company that develops telephony solutions for Mac OS X, has described a "significant ramp up to the number of businesses" purchasing Parliant's products. He also described the Mac's overall total cost of ownership (TCO) as its primary advantage for small business, both because of the lower overall cost to support Macs and because businesses can often "hang on to their Macs longer."

While lower TCO and fewer problems are advantages to Mac OS X for small businesses, they don't account for a recent surge in Macs as business machines. That can be attributed mostly to Apple's transition to Intel processors and the fact that its hardware can now run Windows applications for those times when a comparable Mac-related product isn't available. The ability to use Apple's Boot Camp or one of the other virtualization tools to run Windows applications also helps stagger transition costs as businesses buy and migrate to Mac hardware and software.

Beyond stability and freedom from viruses and spyware, Mac OS X offers small-business owners other advantages. Setting up sharing services under Mac OS X, for example, is a simple matter of opening the Sharing panel in System Preferences. With just a few easy-to-understand clicks, you can share a Mac's Internet connection, printers, files (with other Macs or PCs) and even Web pages. The ease of setup isn't limited to Mac OS X. Apple's newest wireless networking hardware, the AirPort Extreme Base Station, actually provides the perfect small-office network solution. It too can share printers and/or an attached USB hard drive -- all the while providing wireless network/Internet access.

Easy setup and better security alone don't make any computer a solution for business. For that, you also need software. Perhaps the biggest misconception about the Mac in small business is that it is a computer for home users, educators and graphics/media design, and that there simply aren't any business tools available to Mac users. That might have been the case in the past, but that is certainly not true today. Business solutions for Mac OS X run the gamut from those that meet the needs of any company to those that serve specific niches such as retail, law offices and even medical/dental practices.

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Ryan Faas

Ryan Faas

Computerworld
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