Daniel Eran Dilger
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IBM Launches Pilot Program for Migrating to Macs

Daniel Eran Dilger
As further evidence of the growing interest in Macs among enterprise customers, IBM’s Research Information Services launched an internal pilot program designed to study the possibility of moving significant numbers of employees to the Mac platform. The study has already found an enthusiastic response from participants and is helping to drive Mac support for IBM’s business applications.

IBM’s Mac Pilot Program.
A summary of the pilot program, detailed in a IBM document obtained by RoughlyDrafted, revealed that IBM is actively working to move away from its dependence upon Microsoft Windows and toward a heterogeneous cross-platform future.

“In line with IBM’s external strategy of offering a true ‘Open Client’ that may be Windows, Linux or a Mac,” the document noted, “Research IS is focusing on providing an IBM application stack on multiple Operating Systems, rather than be confined to one or the other.”

IBM exited the PC business when it sold its Personal Computing Division and the ThinkPad brand to Lenovo in 2005. The pilot program document outlined a series of reasons for evaluating MacBook Pro laptops as a replacement for the Windows-based ThinkPads currently in use inside the company:

  • Alternative to Microsoft Windows
  • Less prone to security issues
  • Widely used in the academic world with which Research has close ties
  • Many new hires are more comfortable with the Mac and lately asking for it
  • Growing Mac community in Research and within IBM that finds the development environment on Mac more convenient
  • Growing acceptance of the Mac as a consumer and business oriented client platform
  • WPLC strategy includes significant investments in achieving the Mac platform parity

The first phase of the pilot program ran from October 2007 through January 2008. It distributed 24 MacBook Pros to researchers at different sites within IBM Research. Participants kept their existing ThinkPads, but were asked to only use them as a “last resort for applications not working yet on the Mac.”

After the four month test period, the 14 research scientists, 8 software engineers, a director, and a VP staff assistant participating in the pilot program were asked to provide feedback.

Of the 22 of 24 who responded, 18 said that the Mac offered a “better or best experience” compared to their existing computer, one rated it “equal or good,” and three said the Mac offered a “worse experience.” Seven reported having no or marginal prior knowledge of using Macs, while 15 reported having moderate or expert knowledge of the platform.

Software Issues for IBM to Address.
All of the participants reported that it was easy to install IBM’s internal software on the Macs. They listed a series of applications that were important or necessary for their work but not yet available for the Mac, including:

  • IBM’s own DB2 database and Websphere application server
  • IBM’s Rational Application Developer IDE for J2EE apps
  • IBM’s WebSphere Integration Developer SOA development tool
  • support for IBM’s InfoPrint workgroup laser printers
  • Microsoft Visio diagraming software and NetMeeting video conferencing tool

Other drawbacks or weaknesses users reported in the Mac platform included support issues with IBM’s Lotus Sametime instant messaging software and a “lack of robustness or support for Microsoft applications – PowerPoint issues, no NetMeeting, [and] limitations for tools running on Internet Explorer.”

19 of 22 (86%) Users Ask to Keep the Mac.
However, when asked if they would rather keep their MacBook Pro or return to using their familiar ThinkPad, only three chose the ThinkPad; the rest decided to keep the Mac laptop and obtain VMWare Fusion licenses to run Windows when necessary. The document noted additional comments participants left as feedback on their Mac experience, and not all were positive:

“When presenting at customer or external meetings, I have been greeted with the ‘wow factor.’ ‘Where’s the ThinkPad, IBM uses Apples now?’”

“I commend IBM on taking this bold step in providing an alternative to Windows. It will definitely allow us to think different.”

“This can free us from the Windows stranglehold.”

“I have been a true PC stalwart for 2+ decades, but after trying Vista, I’m ready for a change.”

“It has been easier learning the Mac than learning Vista.”

“There are a number of features in the Mac that make it much better than a Windows machine. Overall productivity in using the Mac platform is higher. I can imagine that the new version of the operating system will make those features even better.”

“Getting wireless running was a piece of cake on the Mac, much simpler than the PC.”

“The ability to run Windows XP in a VM under Parallels is a great feature.”

“Upgraded to [Mac OS X Leopard] 10.5 to run [Lotus] Notes 8.5 alpha code, and some things broke, especially wireless. Fixed with aid of community from forums.”

“If the remote connection and Sametime issues are worked out, I think that Mac users can be productive in IBM. However, if I had to recommend a non-Windows setup, I would recommend Linux on a ThinkPad. I see the convenience and reliability of ThinkPad hardware as superior, and the Mac OS is still a proprietary OS that seems to require a Windows license for some tasks anyway. I don’t see enough of an advantage in the Mac OS to be worth the incompatibility issues when collaborating with my colleagues.”

Mac Pilot Program Expansion in 2008.
As a followup to the successful initial phase of the program, IBM plans to expand the pilot to 50 users in the first half of 2008, and based on feedback, add an additional 50 to 100 users in the second half of the year. IBM also outlined plans to improve its Mac software offerings, build the support infrastructure needed for Mac clients, and work to ensure that Macs support its internal security policies.

The company’s internal “Mac@IBM” website, cited in the pilot program document, also references an official group for Mac users within IBM, with over 930 members in 26 countries. It is described as “one of the largest and fastest growing communities within IBM.”


IBM’s software strategy is also embracing the Mac platform, with a new version of Lotus Notes and an integrated package of office productivity software based on OpenOffice and branded as Lotus Symphony being slated for release for the Mac later this year. Support for Notes email and calendaring on the iPhone and iPod Touch is also reported to be in IBM’s plans.

IBM’s Strategic Interest in Macs Goes Beyond Pilot Program

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