Mac Snow Leopard OS struggles against Windows 7

Snow Leopard faces hurdles before it can move beyond art and marketing departments into widespread corporate use.

Although the Mac Snow Leopard operating system has big consumer appeal, VARs agree that it has a way to go before it can gain significant share in enterprise accounts.

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In business, Snow Leopard has found its way into a few marketing and advertising desktops -- where Apple has always maintained a foothold -- but when it comes to widespread adoption throughout an organization, Apple Inc. has its work cut out for it.

The good news for Apple is that high-level executives are showing a growing interest in the latest Mac operating system (OS), especially in small to medium-sized businesses, VARs said. That could stem from Snow Leopard's compatibility with Microsoft Exchange or solid sales for Mac laptops and notebooks.

"About a month or two ago, Apple released the Mac mini server that is priced at $1,000. It includes two hard drives and unlimited client licenses. We have seen a lot of companies [use Mac mini] when they have four to five Macs total and want to place them on one server. The cool thing about [this server] is that it's a gateway for more enterprise Mac solutions down the road," said Dana Stibolt, owner and founder of MacMedics, an Apple-authorized VAR in Baltimore.

Mac Snow Leopard OS riding on iPhone coattails

Some experts speculate that Mac is basking in the reflected glow of the iPhone and iPod. And many say that Apple would be foolish not to use these products as a lead into the enterprise.

A study by The NPD Group Inc. showed that consumers are in fact buying Apple. According to the 2009 Household Penetration Study, 12% of U.S. households own an Apple computer, up from 9% in 2008. The study also found that Apple computer owners tend to own more computers than the norm and have more types of electronics than the average household. For example, 63% of Mac households also have an iPod, compared with the 36% of total computer-owning households that have an iPod.

Many corporate executives have Apple computers at home, an iPhone and an iPod touch and demand Mac compatibility with their businesses. VARs believe that familiarity with Apple products is what's prompting business customers to look into Mac OSes.

"People want their iPhones to have enterprise functionality, and now, it essentially has the same OS as a Mac computer system. It's a great pathway into business accounts. In early 2010, Microsoft will probably have a good response to the iPhone," said Todd Swank, the vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a systems builder based in Burnsville, Minn.

Windows 7 system steals Mac Snow Leopard limelight

Windows Vista's well-documented failings over the past few years gave the Mac OS a leg up in enterprise accounts. But VARs agree that Microsoft has smartened up, especially in its Windows 7 OS marketing campaigns. The company wants the public to know that it's aware of Vista's shortcomings.

"Vista was an enormous blunder -- a disaster. Windows 7 is Vista, fixed, but Microsoft was smart enough to not call it 'Vista Service Pack 2,'" said Ron Herardian, chief systems architect of Global System Services Corp., a Microsoft partner in Mountain View, Calif.

Initial sales of Microsoft's Windows 7 boxed software were far greater -- as much as 234% higher -- than Vista's first few days in the U.S. market, according to The NPD Group.

At least one VAR believes that Mac is still far ahead of Windows 7. "Microsoft's advertising is clever, but too late in the grand scheme. Mac is great because you can take it out of the box and set it up. You don't need to load a bunch of service packs, and that is so much different than Windows. We're always busy with business, because people that need advanced help with Macs come to us," Stibolt said.

Comparing Mac Snow Leopard and Windows 7 system

Microsoft dominates market share in OSes, which means applications are plentiful.

But the Snow Leopard OS does have advantages. "Almost everything that worked with Leopard is also compatible with Snow Leopard. And any issues from moving to [Snow Leopard] are solved with patches from manufacturers. Windows 7 is a major upgrade from Vista, and it has a lot more compatibility issues than [Snow Leopard]," Stibolt said.

Snow Leopard's upgrade price of $29 doesn't hurt. Microsoft charges between $120 and $320 for a Windows 7 upgrade. During the first two weeks of release, Snow Leopard's sales were more than two times higher than the previous version, Leopard, and almost four times higher than Tiger, according to NPD.

"Apple is great at having tight control over their hardware, components and pieces. Microsoft will continue to improve their products, but Apple will have the advantage because they continue to successfully integrate hardware and software," said Michael Oh, founder and president of Tech Superpowers Inc., a Boston Apple reseller.

Mac Snow Leopard OS sales opportunities for VARs

Because of Apple's easy integration with peripherals, printers and scanners, VARs said they do see more concentrated peripheral sales that coincide with Mac purchases.

But the biggest business opportunity may lie in integrating Mac OSes into a PC environment. Stibolt specializes in network integration and finds much success in this particular market.

"Our customers are mostly banks, insurance companies and large associations. In those types of companies, there're normally five to six people that are using Macs for creating marketing materials for their organization. But the rest of the company is on a PC. We specialize in making Mac play nice with a Windows environment, and there's a lot of business there," Stibolt said.

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