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How Apple is gaining ground in the enterprise

Don Reisinger thinks Apple can gain ground in the enterprise by continuing its push for college students. But will college students really want to switch when they become people of power in the workforce?

Much has been made over Apple's unwillingness or inability to establish a foothold in the enterprise. Mac fanatics claim it's because Apple is about consumers and doesn't want to cater to the business world, while Apple haters claim Apple simply isn't capable of beating Microsoft in the enterprise because it doesn't play well with others.

I think both arguments are ludicrous.

If Apple didn't want to break into the business world, it would probably be the dumbest company in the tech industry. The enterprise is one of the most profitable and important sectors in the market and to say that Apple doesn't want a piece of that pie is ridiculous.

A recent report suggests Apple is finally starting to make enterprise developers happy, as evidenced by the Enterprise Desktop Alliance, a group of companies that are trying desperately to bring Macs into major companies already deploying Windows. And with the help of Parallels and VMware Fusion, it's becoming abundantly clear that companies aren't inexorably tied to Windows anymore.

But Apple's real gains in the enterprise aren't going to happen in the next couple years. Instead, the company will see huge gains in the enterprise in five to ten years when today's college students who have been brainwashed by Apple's products finally reach positions of power in the business world. When that happens, the Old Guard that only knows Windows will step aside and a new generation of wunderkinds will propel Apple to the forefront of enterprise technology.

I know there are numerous IT professionals out there right now saying I've totally lost it, but I think that mindset materializes out of their unwillingness to see the writing on the wall. Whether they want to believe it or not, Apple has a stranglehold on the college crowd and neither Microsoft nor Dell will be able to stop it.

The idea that Apple would lead the charge in higher education and become a powerhouse in the enterprise has been postulated many times over the past decade. But not until now has the argument been one that actually makes sense on a number of levels.

The reason for Apple's success over the past few years is obvious: convergence. First, the company made everyone drool over the iPod and kept people using it with iTunes. After that, it continued to develop "cool" Macs that people actually wanted. It bucked the trend of ugly machines and realized the value of beauty and owning devices that were an extension of who you are. And most importantly, it made an iPhone that appealed to consumers and then, one year later, developed the iPhone 3G to appeal to both consumers and businesspeople.

And this is where we find ourselves today. College students listen to music on their iPod while walking to class, take notes on their MacBooks while sitting in class, and check their e-mail on the way out of class on their iPhone. And when they get home and want to listen to some music or watch some video podcasts on their TV, they fire up their Apple TV. Meanwhile, they're falling in love with Apple products and scoffing at all their buddies who insist on using a Windows machine.

We can't forget that the number of college students who plan to buy Macs is on the rise. According to a recent study from Morgan Stanley, 40 percent of college students claim they plan on buying a Mac. Assuming Apple's customer satisfaction rating of 85 percent can be applied to the population of college students, it can be assumed that millions of college students will be entering the workforce with favorable opinions of Macs.

And when they finally enter positions of power in the organizations they work for, don't you think it stands to reason that they'll realize that Windows-based machines aren't the only products that are "ideal" for the enterprise and they might decide to switch to their favorite OS? Management is doing that now in the enterprise with Windows machines. Why can't it happen with Macs?

Granted, that decision will have everything to do with return on investment and software availability, but as I mentioned above, Apple is making strides on both fronts and I truly believe that it feels it can gain ground in the enterprise by playing nice with those that will shape the future. And a key component in that strategy is ensuring that Macs will be available to software developers.

There's no telling how much market share Apple can capture in the enterprise over the next decade. But one thing is certain: by creating products that college-aged students want and evangelizing them in the ways of the Mac, Apple is positioning itself to be extremely successful in the business world over the next few years.

The only thing it needs to do is capitalize on all that success in higher education.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter feed, and FriendFeed.