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Apple's Mac: the Post-PC PC?

Apple's Mac: the Post-PC PC?

With its 30th birthday on Friday, we look at the rise of the most successful personal computer ever

The Apple Mac, celebrating its 30th birthday Friday, January 24, is an anomaly wrapped in a paradox: the most successful personal computer ever with single-digit market share, from the company reinventing itself as the "post PC" leader, is likely to keep growing in the enterprise, even though Apple's whole approach is consumer focused.

The overall PC market continues to decline globally, with Gartner and IDC saying it slumped 5 per cent to 7 per cent in the last quarter of 2013. The two firms differ wildly on the Mac's success in the US during the same period: IDC projects sales were off almost 6 per cent, but Gartner forecasts a 28 per cent increase, giving the Mac a quarterly market share of almost 14 per cent. But NPD Group found Apple notebooks at least declining in the period January through November 2013, from 2.6% to 1.8% of all desktops, laptops and tablets sold in the commercial space.

Another way to look at the Mac was suggested in a September 2013 blogpost by Jean-Louis Gassée, now a venture capitalist but formerly president of the Apple Products Divison: "Apple's share of the PC market may only be 10% or less, but the Mac owns 90% of the $1000+ segment in the US and enjoys a 25% to 35% margin."

In the years following the release of the first iPhone in June 2007, companies that relegated the Mac to tiny enclaves of graphics designers and desktop publishers became huge Apple customers. The influx of iPhones and then iPads, with the mobile iOS operating system, forced IT groups into new, and uncomfortable, postures to support a new mobile reality, with acronyms like bring your own device (BYOD).

In the wake of the iOS devices, Apple continued the evolution of the Mac's OS X system software. The Mac software has come to visually resemble iOS more, taking a range of visual cues and interactions from the mobile platform. Apple created the Mac App Store, creating for OS X a similar kind of protected application environment as for iOS. There are now automatic online software updates. In 2013, for the first time, Apple began offering OS X for free.

The latter two qualify as major security enhancements, says Stephen Cobb, security research with ESET, which offers a range of endpoint security applications, including ones for the Mac. "Outdated versions of applications, including Java, Adobe and others, is a major avenue of attack for malware," Cobb says. "Making these [updates] automatic and free improves the health of the ecosystem. The Mavericks adoption rate has, I think, been faster than any previous edition." [See Galen Gruman's "The 10 best new features in OS X Mavericks"]

"Overall, Apple's intention is not addressing enterprise needs specifically, but making OS X as robust as possible," says Benjamin Levy, principal with Solutions Consulting, a Los Angeles firm that focuses on enterprise OS X and iOS deployments. "By doing so, they give users a lot more protection from threats and [give] administrators assurance that once they've set something up, it stays that way."

Apple is gradually making it easier to integrate Macs (and iOS devices) into enterprises dominated by Microsoft Windows clients and infrastructure, such as Active Directory. It has closer and better ties with third-party security and management software vendors, and it's continuing to increase the number of OS X APIs available to these vendors.

"Today, if you're an enterprise IT manager, you do have the tools you need to deploy an Apple [Mac] infrastructure as you have for Windows and Linux in the past," says Corey Nachreiner, director of security strategy and research for Watchguard, a company that offers advanced firewalls and security software.

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