Drop ban on Mac "bootleggers" at work, advises analyst

It's time for enterprise IT to wake up and smell the coffee, an analyst said today, and help workers who have spent their own money on Mac laptops to access corporate resources.

More than one in five of the over 500 U.S. and European companies surveyed by Forrester Research reported that they were seeing significant increases in the use of employee-owned Apple notebooks, according to David Johnson, the Forrester senior analyst who published a report today on the poll's findings.

But 41 percent of those firms block all access to company resources from Macs, including prohibiting email retrieval and barring connections to the corporate network from home or the workplace.

And that's a crime.

"That leaves a lot of employees to find their own ways to get around corporate prohibition," Johnson said in his report, dubbing the strategy "bootlegging."

Shifting IT focus

The problem, Johnson said in an interview today, is that enterprise IT responsibilities have shifted from assisting users to serving as the gatekeeper that governs and controls what tools employees work with and what they do with those tools. "End users don't like that, and if IT doesn't change, they'll vote them out of office," said Johnson.

The increase in the number of employees bringing their own Macs into the office has been driven by the popularity of the MacBook Pro—and the revamped MacBook Air that Apple launched in July—as well as a disgust with traditional Windows laptops, said Johnson.

"They're drawn to uncluttered Macs, especially those with solid-state drives, which are more responsive and boot in seconds," said Johnson, who added that company-issued Windows laptops are "saddled with management, backup, and security agents that can bog down a PC."

The users attracted to Macs are also—not surprising given Apple's reputation—unimpressed with the design and construction of most Windows laptops. "These power brokers don't want to show up to a meeting with a plastic laptop that sends the subliminal message that they aren't prosperous enough to afford something nicer," Johnson said.

Corporate IT departments that now block access from Macs must realize that they can't stop employees from wanting more than a Windows PC can provide, and so should take what he called a laissez-faire approach to support. "That's what the successful companies are doing," he said.

Johnson recommended several steps companies can take to ease Macs into their environments, including supporting an employee-driven Mac community for self-help, offering Mac-specific management tools rather than trying to piggyback onto Windows, and backing virtual machines on Macs for users who must still access Windows-specific applications.

He also said a line in the sand should be drawn between workers and IT.

"One key barrier [to Mac support] is that IT thinks if they make one exception [to Windows], that the floodgates will open," said Johnson, talking about possible further demands from Mac owners. To solve that, he said, IT and users must agree to share support responsibilities.

Mac self-help

"Would Mac users like to have more support? Sure. But employees using their own Macs have to understand that they're often on their own," said Johnson.

Johnson drew a direct correlation between workers' productivity and what he called "personal freedom for personal computing choices," and said that savvy IT managers should recognize that Mac prohibition is a self-defeating strategy.

"Those continuing to force prohibition risk being labeled as irrelevant at best, and are holding back the competitive potential of the company's employees," Johnson said.

[Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .]

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