Even without a strategy to push its computers into corporations, Apple has managed to nearly quadruple its share of the enterprise market in the past 19 months, according data collected from clients of research firm Forrester.
Apple's Mac OS X currently accounts for 4.5% of the business operating system market, says Forrester analyst Ben Gray. As recently as January 2007, Apple held just 1.2% of the enterprise share, according to responses from Forrester clients who visited the research firm's website.
And that's all happened without Apple lifting much of a finger. "...I haven't seen anything from Apple that seems to show it's attack[ing] the enterprise market," says Gray.
Instead, he attributes Apple's gains to two trends that support each other: client virtualisation and what he calls "tech populism". The former, which relies on software from companies such as VMwareand Parallels, allows users of Intel-based Macs to run other operating systems, such as Windows Vista or XP, in virtual machines.
But tech populism, which Gray defines as the move by corporate IT departments to support a wider range of hardware and software, is even more important to the Mac's gradual climb. "Client virtualisation will be very big, but tech populism will be even bigger," says Gray. "There's a mind-shift happening in IT and we're starting to see that change. They're loosening up their policies on what's acceptable.
"In the end they want their employees to be as productive as humanly possible, so they'll approve tools that people are more comfortable with, the tools they may be running at home," Gray says. "They're saying, 'If we can find some way to manage and support these, we will.'"
That relaxed attitude ties in with the move towards virtualisation on users' desktops, Gray argues, because when an enterprise-mandated operating system, such as Windows XP, can be deployed on a Mac, there are fewer reasons for IT banning Apple's hardware.
"It's all just less about what end users' clients are running," said Gray.
Apple's gains appear to have come at the expense, slight though it was, of Windows. From October 2007 to June 2008, when the Mac's share of the enterprise market increased by 0.9%, Windows' overall share dropped by 0.7%, from 95.6% to 94.9%.
Gray expects that Apple will continue to post small, steady gains during the next 18 months, a period when he predicts PC refreshes and operating system migrations, stalled last year and the first half of 2008, will pick up.
"Certainly, some businesses, and also some [US] government agencies, will explore diversifying their portfolios," he says. "We've talked to some who have explicit goals to have Macs account for 10% of their client base, for example. But I think Apple will continue a slow but steady increase, not accelerate."
Gray's numbers are in contrast to those from rival Yankee Group Research, which in June said that 80% of businesses have Macs, double the percentage of two years ago. However, Yankee Group did not calculate the total enterprise share owned by Mac OS X, instead counting a company that had only a single Mac, for instance, as among the 80%.
According to others, Mac OS X powered about 7.8% of the computers that accessed the internet last month. Net Applications, which tracks visitors to some 40,000 sites, said that Apple's July share was 7.78%, slightly down from June's 7.94%.