First, let me start by saying that I am primarily a Windows person. I have been supporting Windows clients in SMB and education for the better part of 25 years and can still remember upgrading from DOS to my first Windows 3.0 systems. I also recall cleaning up ‘junk’ after being hired at my first full-time job and throwing away an original Windows 1.0 box, which, like my childhood hockey cards, I figured had no value so why keep? Back in those days my Apple support experience was two Macintosh computers at a copy shop in Toronto. What great machines! Not only did they look cool, they were easy to use and allowed me to learn the trendy buzz-thing of the time, desktop publishing.
As time has passed, my career has taken me through many generations of Windows and Macintosh computers in both education and business, riding waves of operating system ups and downs along the way. Like most technical people, my exposure to computer platforms is based largely on market demand. Most of my career has been Windows-heavy with a sprinkling of Macs throughout. I found Macs in corners of marketing companies, in design labs on college campuses and of course in the hands of my children who all selected MacBooks when given a choice. In my experience the balance of power has traditionally been on the side of Windows, with Macs playing a minor supporting role. I am beginning to wonder if this is soon going to change.
I ask myself this question based on my observations in college classrooms and I am beginning to wonder what impact it will have on those that are just starting out in the technical support field. Over the years, students in my college classrooms have often brought their own computers. Their systems mirrored what I saw in business, mostly Windows systems with a small number of Macs. Over the past few years however I have noticed a definite shift in that balance, the numbers have slowly been creeping up to the point where this year my observation is that greater than half and up to two thirds of the students are bringing Macbooks.
So why does this matter? Well, for me it is an issue in my Microsoft Excel training sessions. Traditionally Excel has been taught using textbooks and lessons featuring Office for Windows. The occasional student with a Mac would have problems translating keystrokes and features into the OS X version making their learning more difficult. I have always encouraged these students to practice on a Windows system as being proficient in Windows will be needed in the workplace when they graduate. This year a flood of students has been struggling with this problem and pushing to have the Mac version better supported. While I am not yet able to completely accommodate Mac based users, my observation does beg the question – what impact will these students have on business when they graduate?
Assuming the direction of IT in business is driven by preference in addition to technology, then would one not expect the increasing number of students using Macs to have an impact? As these students graduate from higher education with Macintosh computers being their primary experience and preference, does it not follow that the entrepreneurs and future business leaders amongst them will begin to demand their preferred platform on the desktop?
In my career I have worked with a few 100% Mac based businesses, mostly in print and creative fields. I currently have one client, an engineering firm, that is Mac based, but I suspect the number will grow in the coming years. With more applications moving to the SaaS model with Virtual Apps and Web based tools replacing the traditional, locally installed programs of the past, the barriers to adoption are rapidly falling. The next generation of employees, Web and mobile savvy students of today, are wizards on the Macintosh platform. While I can preach the need to be equally proficient on Windows as well, the fact is that they are not. Employers looking to maximize productivity and efficiency may be wise to accommodate the preferences of these enthusiastic, new graduates.
So what does the future hold for Apple in the workplace? Perhaps Apple has been playing the long game, beginning with their early investment in primary and elementary schools and developing a Macintosh preference in children and teens. This preference, reinforced by the iPhone and Apple’s robust ecosystem of services, may have created a boom generation of Mac users to replace the aging generation of die-hard enthusiasts whose dedication and perseverance have brought us to where we stand today. Perhaps I should shine up my OS X skills to prepare.
Stefan Kanitz is the founding partner of Cairitech Inc., Professor at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada, and an IT professional with 30 years experience in the computer, network and managed services field primarily focused on small-medium business. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefankanitz/