Windows geeks warm to Macs

At Simply RFiD, a half-dozen software developers yearned for Macs at work. They liked the power and reliability of the Apple machines. Oddly, Simply RFiD made the switch to Mac Pros for its developers to write code for Windows computers.

“We’re small and don’t want to deal with tech support issues, and that’s what Windows has become,” says Carl Brown, a software engineer and president of Simply RFiD, which helps companies use radio frequency identification technology. “The only reason why we even run Windows is because we’re a Windows developer.”

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Let’s face it: Techies love great technology, and so it’s no surprise that some Windows developers prefer working on Macs, which are considered by many to be the best desktop computers on the market today. Microsoft, on the other hand, is still trying to cover up its Vista black eye. For many techies, the much maligned Vista operating system has become a symbol of backward innovation.

Macs have made giant strides in the enterprise in recent years, thanks to Vista’s woes, Apple’s move to the Intel platform and emerging trends such as desktop virtualization and software-as-a-service that make it easier to access applications using a non-Windows computer. All have helped kick open the corporate doors to Macs. Last year, the Yankee Group surveyed 750 senior IT executives and found that nearly 80 percent have Macs in their environment, up from 47 percent in 2006.

“We wanted to use Macs exclusively five years ago, but it wasn’t feasible because there were just too many Windows applications that had to run on a PC,” Brown says. “We all had Windows PCs at work and Macs at home but couldn’t justify the Mac as our main PC. With Intel boxes, virtualization and SaaS, now you can.”

Windows geeks wanting Macs?

Most Apple enterprise enthusiasts come from creative and sales ranks, such as marketing departments and iPhone-toting execs. “I don’t think we’d ever entertain rolling out Macs unless there was some kind of creative or digital component,” says Michael Iacona, CIO of TMP Worldwide Advertising and Communications. “They are much more expensive” and harder to manage.

Yet there are signs that techies want their Macs, too. At Simply RFiD, .Net developers run Visual Studio in a VMware virtualization machine on a Mac Pro-a very stable and fast platform for programmers. In fact, Brown contends that VMware on a Mac Pro runs Windows better than Windows runs Windows.

Moreover, with a click of the mouse, software developers can instantly flip to the Mac OS. They can quickly open up iChat videoconferencing or tap into one of many Internet services that Simply RFiD uses, such as Google Apps for email and collaboration and Netsuite for back office functions. It helps that Macs are known for their easy interaction with Internet-based services.

Simply RFiD engineers aren’t alone in their affection for the Mac. Other IT pros are demanding Macs, often spurred by an appreciation of Apple’s reputable hardware and zest for technological innovation. The fact that Mac OS X is Unix-based also means many developers feel at home.

Unbreakable Windows!

Software developers, though, can be a fickle lot. For instance, Brown spent the last two days hooking up a fully patched $500 Vista machine to a $2,000 Apple monitor to see what would happen. There were a lot of annoying prompts, he says, but the system worked well enough.

So well, in fact, that his team got together to discuss the latest Windows trends-and buzz started swirling about bringing PCs back. Microsoft’s Live platform, along with its shared server for small or large organizations, “looks pretty cool,” Brown says. He’s also encouraged by new Microsoft products that are smaller rather than bigger, a sign Microsoft is moving away from traditionally massive, monolithic applications that requre two days to patch.

“We’ve been watching what [Ray Ozzie, chief software architect] has done there the last few years,” says Brown, “and it’s kind of exciting to see that Microsoft might have a soul again.”

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