Windows vs Mac – The results of a 3 month trial

I was recalling recently a discussion I had had with a client regarding his most recent strategic insight into his corporate IT systems. He’d decided that he wanted to change the business from Windows computers to Apple Macs. I’m a firm believer that technology is a tool to support and enable a business, so of course the first thing I asked about was the business requirements that were motivating this change. Without a clear understanding of this it would be hard to offer any meaningful advice on the new systems, or assistance in the migration.

His response was that he had an iPhone and an iPad, both of which he loved, so he thought moving the business to the Apple platform would be a good idea too. Now this is actually an understandable conclusion for him to have reached. After all it’s such associations that drive many human behaviors. Have a good experience at a restaurant? You’ll likely want to go back to try something else from the menu, assured by the good experience you had the first time. Enjoyed someone’s company? You’ll probably look forward to seeing them again and sharing other experiences. It makes perfect sense that his enjoyable, productive experiences with his Apple iPhone and iPad would lead him to seek out the same experience from other Apple products.

Being a corporate network though meant that there were other requirements that would need to be met. We spent some time talking through the business, and the various requirements and influences that would need to be considered in this decision. In short form the top points we wrote down (both for and against) included…

  • Personal preference for Apple Macs due to attractive hardware and positive experiences with other Apple devices
  • Legendary Apple ‘Ease of use’ & reliability
  • Lack of staff knowledge/experience on the Mac platform.
  • Substantial financial cost of not only new hardware but also all new software licensing
  • No easy migration path available from Windows based accounting package to Mac equivalent
  • Niche industry software application only available on Windows

As we worked through this list, even without putting any hard dollar figures against each point, it was becoming clear that changing platform would be a substantial investment in both money and time. We continued to talk through each point in turn before reaching the agreement to trial a single Apple Mac machine in the office for while to see how it would go. A suitable machine was subsequently purchased a few days later, and installed on the network along with some virtualisation software to allow the Windows-only applications to run. The staff member who was to use the new machine was provided with about 30 minutes hands on training on the new system, and then left to their own devices.

The trial setup was left in place for about 3 months and, without going into too much detail, was not successful. Subsequently it was decided to leave the business on the Windows platform. Some key points of note that lead to this decision were…

  • Substantial lost productivity and increase in helpdesk support calls from the user in question. This supported the theory that substantial user training would be required to enable a smooth transition. Not only this but the user in question suffered significant stress due to the lost productivity, and sense of frustration.
  • To minimise costs during the trial phase some key software (eg: Microsoft Office) had been reused from the Windows platform, run within the virtualisation environment to allow it to run on the Mac. From the trial it was concluded that for a full deployment this wouldn’t be workable, demanding that all new licenses would need to be purchased for the Mac equivalent software, thus substantially adding to the financial costs. It should also be noted that additional user training would be required on the Mac equivalent software to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Further hardware incompatibilities were discovered with older printers and scanners which would necessitate replacement of these devices. On the balance of it, changing from the Windows platform to the Mac platform didn’t make sense for this business once all of the factors were properly considered. The result may be entirely different for another business or in different circumstance. The point is that for any decision (especially the substantial ones) you need as much information available as possible to support the decision making process. It’s not enough to only consider the hard facts of the matter though, you also need to consider the less tangible issues such as (in this case) the attractive physical appearance of the Mac hardware (highly subjective), and the implications on the people affected by the decision.

Worried about moving to the Cloud? So you should be.

Worried about moving to the cloud because of what might happen if you can’t access your data? Well done, because even the big boys of the cloud computing game suffer downtime every now and then, such as Google’s outage last week. The reality is that computer systems do crash, whether they be in-house systems or cloud based. The important thing is that you accept this fact and think through in advance how your business will deal with that downtime. In the trade we call this ‘Business Continuity Planning’.

For some businesses it’s a great chance for a coffee break, or maybe an early mark if it happens to be Friday afternoon. Think about the last time you were in a restaurant or cafe when the waiter apologised, and that they were having some trouble with their computers. No problem, their Business Continuity Plan probably involved putting pen to paper to write out your order, and the world kept turning. For other businesses it’s not so easy to brush off. Now think about your business. Next time one of your main IT services goes down, how will your business respond?